Chapter 1: The Arrival
January 12, 2122; 1231 Hours
Stark Colonial Flotilla, Unknown System
To say that the first Human extrasolar colonists were in a tight spot would be the understatement to end them all. Four decades prior to the flotilla's launch, alien ruins had been discovered on Mars, much of the data within corrupted beyond recovery. What was recoverable, however, was a technical readout of sorts. It depicted a large, tuning fork-like installation capable of propelling spacecraft across interstellar distances with next to no time dilation. Faced with the opportunity to explore distant worlds, the path forward was obvious.
The first tests of what had been dubbed a 'phase-gate' by Human scientists went as well as could be hoped. Unmanned drones were sent to various nearby systems to scout for potentially habitable worlds, and one was finally discovered twenty years ago squarely in the Orion constellation. Drones were dispatched to the planet to sample its soil, atmosphere, and water; and it was a veritable jewel of a planet, perfect for human colonization. After years of planning, construction, and recruitment, the first extrasolar colony mission was launched, and would have found itself settling in prefabricated structures built by fleets of automated drones. That's how it was supposed to go, at least.
The Stark Flotilla had expected to emerge in a system with a single sun, not too unlike Sol. Instead, every one of the hundreds of colony vessels saw a binary system, the constellations completely unrecognizable. They were lost, potentially a galaxy away from their destination, with no means of return. The binary system itself seemed to be nestled in a nebula, with swirling clouds of gas painting the void in a myriad of colors.
With few options open to them, the colonists set to work scouting the system. Their food reserves could last them one year at best with careful rationing. Much to the surprise of the six million souls in the flotilla, the system did have several habitable bodies: two moons and two major planetary bodies. Luckier yet, another 'phase gate' was discovered in orbit of the most distant planet in the system, looking to be inert. As wondrous of a sight as it was, there was work to be done.
In a few scant days, every habitable planet had been surveyed by automated probes for optimal landing sites. To hopefully minimize the chances of a single cataclysm wiping out the colonists, it was decided by the flotilla's leadership that they would settle all four of the amenable worlds with several colonies, all varied in size. Ten million souls, scattered among hundreds of ships of varying sizes and purposes, began working to reorganize the fleet as best they could.
The supplies carried on the vessels were planned and organized meticulously, the sponsor nations of the colonial expedition wanting every eventuality planned for, and that just might save everyone in this system. Within two weeks, the single flotilla became several smaller fleets, each heading for their assigned landing sites. As the vessels began gaining distance between each other, it became abundantly clear that this nebula was interfering with traditional radio communication, likely cutting off the settled worlds until space travel could be redeveloped.
The first of the worlds to be settled was a world that seemed similar to Earth at first glance, and was granted comparatively less equipment for the initial settlement. As the weeks on-world ticked by and the four sites began repurposing their vessels as makeshift shelters, the true perils of the planet became known. What started as colonists going missing seemingly at random quickly turned into near-constant attacks by predatory wildlife. One of the eight landing sites was overrun, another was wiped out by a volcanic eruption, and a third fell prey to a strange alien disease that wiped out their crops. This world, settled mostly by people from North America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, soon became known as Atreus.
The second settled world was a roughly similar size, day length, and gravity to Earth, but much of the planet consisted of savannah, sandy desert, rough mountain ranges where liquid water was abundant, but the atmosphere rather thin. Boreal forests dotted the polar regions of the planet, home to rather simple life and raging blizzards during the winter. The planet existed in extremes, dropping to well below freezing across its surface during the winter, and up to nearly fifty degrees during the summer. Only two of the three colonial ventures made it past the first year, the few scattered survivors of the third making their way to safe harbor with what little food and water they had left. The mostly Arabic, North African, and Central Asian settlers came to call the world Abbadiyah
The first of the habitable moons to be settled was a world dominated by small continents, archipelagos, and scattered islands among a planet-wide ocean. Being in the orbit of the system's largest gas giant, the tidal forces were rather extreme at times, forcing the settlers to make their homes at higher ground and further inland. One of the four colonies was lost to disease, and the other lost to a famine. This world, settled mostly by people native to South and Central America, Oceania, and Southern Europe, quickly became known as Nueva Aztlan.
The final settled moon, becoming known as Valhalla by its residents,was reminiscent of Earth early in its development, having a single large landmass with inland fresh and saltwater seas dotted around its surface. Being slightly further in the habitable zone of the system saw this moon plagued by particularly harsh winters, where nearly every sea outside a twelve-hundred kilometer equatorial belt would freeze over. The settlers of this world hailed largely from Northern Europe, Japan, India, and South-central Asia. Three of the five missions survived, with one perishing to the cold when a solar flare knocked out the fledgling electrical grid of the colony, disabling the heating elements in the colony in the dead of winter. The second failed mission's fate was sealed by a series of failed harvests, leading to a famine.
It would be just over one hundred years before the first of the surviving colonies began sending satellites up into the orbit of their world. Within two years of the first satellite launch, intermittent contact with the surviving colonies was re-established. The contact was bittersweet for the colonists of the system, as they had intended to settle as Humans rather than any single nationality or ethnicity. Over the century, new national identities had been born.
Atreus was home to the most nations at three; The Republic of Chulainn, the Free States of Donegal, and the Canopian States.
Both Abbadiyah and Nueva Aztlan housed two independent nations with smaller micro-states dotted across its surface; Orunmila and Chidi on Abbadiyah, with Ishkur and Hawaiki on Nueva Aztlan.
Only one nation of note had managed to emerge on Valhalla; the Valkyrate Commonwealth, which had taken a sort of stewardship over the several dozen micro-states and city-states that had formed from small offshoot colonial outposts.
130 years after their arrival in the system, trade finally began between the young nations as large ships began moving between the four settled worlds. As the system became smaller and smaller with expanding trade and interplanetary transport, talks of forming a supranational entity to represent the nations of Erebus became ever more common.
Following nearly twenty years of forming power blocs, trade blocs, and often-heated deliberation, The Orion Confederacy was officially formed 150 years after the Stark Flotilla arrived in-system, almost to the day, named for the constellation that was meant to be their original destination. The Confederacy's capital was placed on Atreus, in the large coastal city of Tessera, and established as its own federal district.
A mere 9 years after the foundation of the Confederacy, the first Human craft managed to independently break the lightspeed barrier thanks to recently-discovered ruins on Abbadiyah, seemingly sharing an origin with the ruins found on Mars two centuries prior. Erebus had plentiful Element Zero deposits, allowing for more and more FTL-capable ships to be put into service. It was one of these early ships, the CMS Amundsen that accidentally reactivated the system's resident mass relay, propelling it to another, smaller relay further into the nebula. This ushered in a wave of colonial expansion, leading to the eventual establishment of colonies in 31 systems within thirty years.
All of these colonized systems were within the expansive Nyx Nebula, stretching nearly a hundred light years in all directions. Some regions were less dense than others, allowing for easier mapping of the stars. Erebus seemed to be near the galactic rim, finally giving the now-established human settlers an idea of where they were based on their arrival vector: they were on the clear other end of the galaxy from Sol, though they still had no idea of its exact location beyond a vague direction.
As the Confederacy's colonial expansion took it further towards the coreward edge of the nebula, evidence that they were far from the only spacefaring civilization in the galaxy began to mount. Repeating, mathematical signals were detected, and radio telescopes constructed on the newest colony worlds began detecting signals that were simply impossible to explain as natural. Two hundred and twenty three years after arriving in Erebus, first contact was finally made, though it was nothing like the relatively young nation expected.
October 19, 223 (Confederate Standard Calendar)
Nova Roma, Asimov System
Confederate Army Colonel Aleksandr Kerensky's duties on the recently-established colony on Nova Roma were best described as mundane. His 18th Mechanized Infantry Brigade mostly served as peacekeepers for the early colony, operating as a police force or occasionally warding off the local wildlife. The colony itself was rather small, despite the world itself being a verdant paradise, not unlike Atreus now that the hostile wildlife had been thoroughly checked. A mere ten thousand colonists resided on the planet, but more were definitely coming with the recent discovery of mass mineral deposits on the planet.
His desktop terminal blinked to life with a high-priority message from the small orbiting fleet. Half-expecting it to be a notification of another inbound transport vessel, the urgency in the captain's voice surprised him.
"Colonel Kerensky, several unidentified vessels just arrived from the Relay. Unknown IFF and all attempts to hail them have either returned nothing or gibberish. I… I think we just made first contact."
A pit formed in Kerensky's stomach. "Acknowledged, Captain. Any identifiable warships? What's their current vector?"
"No visible weapons hardpoints, Colonel." The captain returned. "They almost look like civilian ships. Current vector has them en-route to the planet."
Kerensky racked his brain for what to do. It would be a few days at best before reinforcements from the rest of the Confederacy could arrive, so if this was an attack, he was on his own. All he could hope was that they were a peaceful bunch. "Captain, hold fire unless fired upon. I'll greet them on the ground."
As the comms cut, Kerensky quickly grabbed his sidearm and made for the motor pool. After a quick barking of orders, his brigade was mounting up on their IFVs and APCs. The colonel climbed into the commander's hatch of the M31A1 "Focht" light tank, linking his brigade's comms network to the orbiting fleet's. Half of the brigade was directed to defend the colony proper, while the rest were dispatched to the projected landing site of the incoming vessels. He was happy to learn that the navy would be sending a task force from the relatively nearby colony of Zheng He, but they were at least two days away. For the time being, the six vessels in orbit and the single brigade on-planet were all these colonists had for defense.
By the time the forward elements of the brigade arrived at the landing site, a few of the smaller alien vessels were beginning to make their way towards the surface. Seeing them in-person, they were certainly not of Confederate design. They didn't have the sleek, utilitarian look of a human vessel, and they lacked any of the livery common on Confederate vessels. "Bogies in-range, Colonel." Kerensky heard through his headset.
"Hold fire, Lieutenant." Kerensky ordered, flipping over to the remote-controlled commander's optics, swinging them up to get a closer look at the incoming vessels. They looked damaged, with distinct dents, scrapes, and scoring marking their hulls. "Do not fire unless fired upon. Disembark and form a perimeter around the vehicles." As the first of the small transports set down, Kerensky wheeled his commander's optics around to watch the opening hatch. It wasn't the fact that aliens were climbing out of the vessel that surprised him, he had been silently preparing himself for the past twenty minutes. What surprised him was just how many there were.
They were all distinctly humanoid, but to varying degrees. Some were blue-skinned, looking eerily similar to Humans but lacking hair of any kind. Others were tall and covered in a series of bone-like plates across their heads, others looked vaguely amphibian or reptillian with large, beady black eyes and a lanky frame. The last distinct one that climbed out of the first shuttle looked to be clad in a full-body suit, an opaque visor only allowing Kerensky's optics to make out a pair of faintly-glowing eyes.
The blue near-human ones were the easiest to get a read on. They looked surprised to see a collection of infantrymen and armored vehicles staring them down. All of the aliens quickly threw their hands up, showing that they were unarmed. The few that were armed quickly put their weapons on the ground, mirroring the gesture.
As more of the small vessels set down, offloading more and more of the motley collection of aliens, a pattern started to emerge. As far as Kerensky could tell, they were dressed in the rough equivalent to rags, with many looking emaciated for their frames. "Cover me." Kerensky sighed into his comms headset. "Let's see what we've got here." Before climbing out of the tank, Kerensky pulled a respirator mask over his face, an added precaution given the real possibility of alien disease.
As his boots hit the dirt, he made his way towards the forward line of infantry, clad in their woodland-patterned combat hardsuits. Thankfully, most of them had settled down seeing that their unexpected guests were most likely civilians. He held up a hand as a pair of troopers moved to fall in behind him. Sure, it probably wasn't smart to walk up to a completely alien species alone, but he wanted to at least make an attempt at a good first impression.
As he got closer, one of the blue-skinned aliens looked to him in surprise. If he had to guess, she was just as surprised as he was to see just how similar their species were. After shaking off his awe, Kerensky sucked in a deep breath and gestured to himself and back to his brigade. "Human." He followed that by pointing to the alien before him.
"Asari." The alien responded. Before Kerensky could contemplate how to continue, she gestured to her mouth, then to him. She placed a spread hand against the side of her head, then gestured to him with the same open-hand. Kerensky mirrored the gesture, not exactly sure what she was 'talking' about. Either she was asking to touch him, or talk with him. With a shrug, Kerensky simply nodded.
As the alien reached out and placed her hand on the side of his head, he had what could best be described as a vision of sorts. It was him in an empty void, with the same alien standing a few inches from him. What surprised him even more was the fact that he could understand every word the alien was saying, like she was speaking in his native Russian. She explained their situation, and every detail made Kerensky's stomach churn.
They were recently-escaped slaves from a nearby colony that had been taken over by a band of roving mercenaries. They had chips implanted in their brain tissue to act as a sort of killswitch or control chip, which were disabled by a freak solar flare. After a revolt, they had managed to escape to the system on the other end of Nova Roma's resident relay, and jumped to this world. They hadn't expected the relay to be active. All she asked was for safe harbor for the six hundred souls aboard their small flotilla of freighters and shuttles.
"You're welcome to remain on the colony for now, but I need to get this to the Confederacy." Kerensky nodded. "Are there any others you left behind? Will they follow you?"
"There were thousands of others..." The Asari nodded. "I'm not sure if they'll follow, but… it wouldn't surprise me."
"If you have any way for us to translate your language, it'd be greatly appreciated." Kerensky added. "It'll make explaining this to Parliament far easier."
"Some of us still have omni-tools, they should have enough of a language codex to make a translator." The Asari nodded. "I'm sorry I had to handle it this way, this was the quickest way to explain."
In a flash, Kerensky was back in the field on Nova Roma, blinking away his surprise. He glanced at the old timepiece he kept on his wrist. Not even three seconds had passed. With a sudden flood of resolve, Kerensky wheeled around to his brigade. "Stand down! These are refugees!"
October 21, 223
Nova Roma, Asimov System
Kerensky waited at the landing platform, standing at attention in his finely pressed olive-drab dress uniform. The Confederate 4th Fleet had just arrived in-system, bringing relief units and more prefab structures, along with the largest collection of Confederate warships outside of the home system. "Admiral Carlsen." Kerensky saluted.
"At ease, Colonel." The darker-skinned admiral waved off the gesture. "Caused a bit of a stir back in Tessera."
"Any word, sir?" Kerensky asked, nodding towards the utility vehicle that would take them to the small temporary camp for the refugees.
"Parliament's still deliberating, working at the speed of government and all that." Carlsen shrugged, climbing into the passenger's seat. "Some of them are concerned about starting a war, but it seems to be leaning towards an intervention… assuming this 'Asari' is telling the truth about the colony being a venture independent of this Council."
"I see no reason for her to lie, Admiral." Kerensky offered. "The rest of the refugees' stories corroborate her own, with some being… considerably more visceral than others."
"And you're sure this translator is accurate?" Carlsen asked, sliding a small data chip Kerensky handed to him into the datapad mounted to his wrist.
"Accurate enough for our purposes, but I wouldn't recommend a philosophical conversation." Kerensky joked. The past few days were exciting to say the least, to have five distinct alien races land on the colony under his charge. He was more than happy to be able to lighten the mood after hearing so many horrid stories from this nearby colony.
"It'll have to be enough." Carlsen sighed.
The drive to the refugee camp was relatively short, and Kerensky noted just how shocked his superior was. It was one thing to hear about aliens, it was another to finally see them in person. The reinforcements from the fleet had already landed on the outskirts of the camp, and were working to set up more structures for the questionably-temporary camp. A pair of Kerensky's own men that were standing guard by the road leading into the camp gave the two officers a salute as they drove past, stopping just before the road gave way to rows of tents, inhabited by the six hundred refugees that had made their way here.
"How many are there? Species, I mean." Carlsen asked, looking around as he dismounted the vehicle.
"We have five here." Kerensky explained. "Asari, Turian, Salarian, Quarian, and a few Krogan." Kerensky gestured to them in turn if any were in eyeshot. The only one that wasn't were the Quarians. Only five of them were among the refugees, and they tended to stick together. "All but the Turians and Quarians seem to have no issue with our foodstuffs, but those two have a different amino acid structure in their DNA. They've had to make do with heavily-processed nutrient paste."
"Better than what their captors were feeding them, I hope?" Carlsen asked, following behind Kerensky as he led the way through the camp.
"Definitely better." Kerensky nodded. "We took some blood samples from the Asari, Turians, and Salarians, and it seems that the food they were given was laced with a narcotic of some kind. We don't have the facilities here to fully understand it, but the de-facto leader of these people said it does something to hinder motor function and impair biotic abilities."
"Biotic abilities?" Carlsen asked.
"Apparently, that's what those effects of in-utero element zero exposure are." Kerensky shrugged.
"Colonel Kerensky!" An older Asari called out, rounding a corner about thirty meters ahead of them.
"Matriarch Athiela." Kerensky smiled, seeing the very same Asari he had 'melded' with at first contact. "You're looking much better. This is Admiral Carlsen, Confederate Fourth Fleet. He was asked by Parliament to assess the situation here. I'm hoping you can provide him some insight?"
"Of course. It's the least I could do." She nodded, looking to the Admiral. "Should I follow, or…?"
"Your accommodations are more than alright, Ma'am." Carlsen nodded. "You've all been through enough, no need to make this more uncomfortable than it has to be."
As the Admiral was led to the small tent that the Matriarch and her daughter had claimed as their own, Kerensky decided to make his usual rounds around the area, making sure everything was proceeding well. He was happy to see that his men were getting along with the new arrivals. A few of the local businesses were even bringing food into the relief camp, taking pressure off of Kerensky's men.
The days ticked by slowly as more and more fleet assets filtered into the system, bringing with them three full Confederate Army divisions drawn from varying worlds, along with an army of bureaucrats, engineers, scientists, doctors, and construction personnel. Within a week, a task force made up of the Confederate 4th and 1st Fleets was patrolling the system. With such a massive movement of hardware, Kerensky knew that Parliament had come to a decision.
November 12, 223
Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis
Kerensky felt the assault ship's superstructure shudder as it made contact with the atmosphere. His entire brigade had been dispatched alongside the task force to assault the apparent slaver colony a mere two relay jumps away from Nova Roma. The word on the grapevine was that the small fleet of picket ships orbiting the planet were utterly annihilated by the two carrier task forces that had jumped into their system after an attempted hail was met by mass driver fire.
Now that their vessel was in atmosphere, the chaos outside could just barely be heard through the hull plating. Strike fighters from the carrier groups were streaking towards the planet ahead of the assault ships, paving a landing zone for the ground forces. As the arrival indicator flared to life on Kerensky's helmet display, he went through the motions of bringing his light tank's sensors, weapons, and power plant online.
Mere moments after the commander's optics and backup fire control system booted up, the assault ship landed, and the ramp descended. On any other occasion, Kerensky would've considered the planet on the other end of the ramp to be a tropical paradise. It almost reminded him of old pictures of Earth he had seen as a child in school, but he shoved those ideas to the back of his mind as the tank's driver began moving the vehicle towards the open air.
Kerensky was at the rear of a small column of four tanks that would be the heavy support for the eight IFVs and twelve APCs that his brigade made use of. Almost immediately after reaching the sandy beach at the base of the ramp, a warning klaxon blared throughout the tank's hull as the active defense system launched an interceptor projectile to prematurely detonate a rocket that was heading for them. He swiveled his optics around, catching sight of a massive bipedal robot that was stomping just behind a platoon of fourteen armored humanoids, sweeping an autocannon across the hull of one of the APCs. "Gunner, HE!" Kerensky ordered, feeling the turret swivel beneath him as the tank's autoloader rammed a high explosive shell home. He watched the targeting reticle settle on the robot, the fire control system automatically adjusting for wind, range, and elevation. There was a hefty thunk as the tank's gauss cannon fired off the HE round, striking right in the center of the bipedal robot.
The machine's kinetic barriers collapsed almost instantly from the sheer force of the 80mm projectile's impact, the detonation shearing off armor plating and cooking off the ammunition that was evidently stored in the machine's torso. Two of the humanoid defenders went up in the ensuing explosion, and Kerensky swept the HMG under his control across the treeline, keeping the others pinned behind cover and allowing the infantry to move up.
The fight to the small colony was a quick and brutal one. The slavers were nowhere near entrenched enough to hold back a full assault like this, but the issues with Confederate logistics were starting to make themselves known. Every large unit in the Confederate Army was outfitted slightly differently, as they were outfitted and equipped by their homeworld's local government. This was the first time a combined operation of this scale had ever been launched by the Confederacy, and they were running into some teething problems.
Command and control systems for different divisions were having a hard time communicating, vehicles across units ran on different fuels, and the somewhat motley makeup of the Confederate Army meant that support wasn't always attached to units that needed it.
By the time Kerensky's brigade arrived at its destination, the casualties were already higher than he would've liked. Even with the refugees giving them all of the information they could, there was simply no good way to assault this colony. Kerensky took some solace in the fact that his unit wasn't getting the worst of it, at least. There were several colonies scattered across the planet's surface, each of them coming under attack simultaneously. A Canopian division that was assaulting the largest of the colonies was taking quite the beating, but were still gaining ground… judging by the communications filtering through his comms system at least.
When the telltale sound of Aerospace assets overhead reached Kerensky's ears, he gave the general order for his brigade to advance on the colony. He was silently thankful that his unit was from Donegal. They were among the best-equipped forces in the entire Confederacy, and it showed as he watched infantrymen with jump pack-equipped armor rush towards the colony under covering fire from the armored and aerospace elements, reaching their destination and leaping a full forty feet onto the roof of a prefab before laying down covering fire for their comrades below.
It wasn't long before the defenders finally broke and entire squads emerged from their defenses without their weapons and their hands held above their heads. Kerensky heard multiple reports from the comms network that the other colonies on the planet had fallen to the Confederate advance. Before long, Admiral Carlsen ordered a full sweep of the colonies for survivors and now decidedly former slaves.
November 12, 223
Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis
Kerensky walked through the small colony with his carbine cradled in his arms. In the weeks since first contact, the translators had been refined considerably. Now he could get an accurate read on what the locals were saying as the Confederate troops patrolled the colony. The locals had been kept very separate from the liberated slaves. Almost all of the locals were Batarians, a race of four-eyed humanoid aliens. The former slaves represented just about every species that Kerensky had seen on Nova Roma. Opinions of the Confederate troops were split right down the two. The locals openly detested them, while the former slaves were all-too-happy to point out the particularly ruthless slavers.
As he continued his patrol, Kerensky just barely noticed a blue blur duck back behind a prefab structure near the temporary accommodations for the former slaves. He gestured for his men to keep a bit of a distance as he approached, letting the carbine fall on its sling as he rounded the corner. He was surprised to see what looked like an Asari child. He couldn't hope to guess her age, given that the Matriarch he had met, who looked roughly fifty by Human standards, was well into her eight hundreds. The child was clutching what looked like a Confederate field ration to her chest, looking up at the armored human like a deer in headlights.
Kerensky quickly flicked the translator on and slowly approached, dropping to a knee. "Hey… what are you doing out here?" He asked, seeing a look of guilt cross the child's face as she looked down to the ration, clutching it closer to her chest. "Hungry?" She nodded, looking up with teary eyes at the colonel. "Don't worry, I'm not mad at you. What's your name?"
"Liara." The girl offered, seeming to relax a bit.
"How old are you, Liara?" Kerensky asked, reaching up to remove his helmet. He hoped that a friendly face would help her relax a bit more than a helmet would. "Did you get separated from your parents?"
"I'm ten..." Liara began, surprising Kerensky yet again. A ten year old had managed to sneak into a food stockpile. He had to admire the tenacity. "I… I don't know where my mother is. I haven't seen her since… since they took me."
Kerensky suddenly realized he was woefully unprepared for a situation like this. "How about you come with me, and we'll see if we can't find your mom, huh?" He held out a hand, which the girl gingerly took.
As he rounded the corner again, surprising his platoon at the sight of an Asari child being led by their superior officer. "Lieutenant, you've got the platoon. I'm going to figure this out."
November 21, 2087 (Council Calendar)
"We keep seeing these same strange reports from the Terminus… whispers of a new race launching some kind of offensive against a Batarian colony world in the Rosetta Nebula." Councilor Mesu began, reading through the collection of text on the screen of his datapad. "Most of them seem to be survivors accounts, judging by what STG has brought forward."
"Has the STG managed to verify these claims?" Sparatus asked, glancing over to the galaxy map. He knew damn well that there was no way the Council could get anything larger than an STG team into the Terminus without provoking a conflict with the dozens of microstates, hermit kingdoms, and pocket empires that dotted the region. "For all we know, this could just be two of the local powers going to war. It wouldn't be the first time someone's mistaken some ramshackle 'cruiser' for an alien vessel."
"All we have are these sensor readings from one of the STG agents embedded in the Eclipse merc outfit." Mesu put the readings up on the holographic display on the wall, showing telemetry of several dozen vessels that looked to be roughly on par with traditional warship sizes and weights. Every species tended to have a certain distinct engine signature from the way their fusion drives burned fuel… these didn't match any known signature, and seemed far too finely-controlled and advanced to be a pirate band or local warlord's fleet.
"How could a new species just amass all this power so quickly without anyone taking note?" Tevos asked, surprised to see the rather interesting ship designs before her. One of them looked about equivalent to a dreadnought, but there were barely any weapons on it.
"According to our STG informants, there's been muted signals coming from the large nebula near the galactic rim. Garbled static mostly, but there's been the occasional repeating pattern." Mesu verbally shrugged. "Maybe this nebula shielded their development from prying eyes."
"Where was this STG plant in Eclipse?" Sparatus asked, glancing over to Mesu.
"Take a guess..." Mesu gestured to the small highlighted orb on the galaxy map. "His transmission barely made it through the comm buoy before their fleet struck. Most of the data was corrupted."
Sparatus sighed. "Alright… do we have any other agents in the Terminus? Preferably a Spectre?"
"The closest we have is Vasir, out of Illium." Mesu answered. "We should send her out that way, see if she can dig anything up."
November 22, 223
Erebus System, Atreus (Tessera)
"Still nothing, Aaron?" Kerensky asked into his car's in-built phone. His unit had been rotated out of the operations in the Rosetta Nebula, mostly due to him. He was happy to be home, and even happier to be wearing a single silver star on either side of his collar. It would be strange to be a member of the Confederate Army's general staff, but he would get used to it.
"Afraid not." the voice of Kerensky's lifelong friend and confidant, Aaron Schmidt's voice rang out through the car's cabin. Both had decided to serve in the Confederate military, with Aaron opting for a role in the intelligence service rather than frontline service like his friend. "No records of a Benezia T'Soni from any of the colonies, and nobody matching the girl's description. It's grim, but we still have some bodies to examine… we might turn something up there."
"And how's Liara?" Kerensky asked, letting out a sigh as he watched the bright lights of his hometown appear on the horizon. This late at night, the R-21 highway was practically empty. There was a certain comfort in seeing Tessera's beautiful skyline clash with the near-perpetual aurora that covered Atreus' night skies.
"She's settling in on Pioneer Station for her quarantine now." Aaron began, a chair's squeaking just barely audible as he let out a sigh and leaned back. "If all goes well and she clears quarantine, we're still not quite sure what to do with her."
"I'll be damned if that girl's getting thrown in an orphanage or a relief camp, Aaron." Kerensky's voice hardened. "Any word on how we're gonna handle the refugees?"
"Parliament's still hung up on whether or not to go find this Council immediately, or start offering residency to the refugees." Aaron verbally shrugged. "Maybe your little speech in the morning can swing a few opinions."
"Don't remind me..." Kerensky sighed, shaking his head. "I'm glad to be home, but nobody told me that getting a star on the collar meant I'd have to start giving televised speeches at the Parliament Hall."
"It's just one speech, buddy, you'll be fine." Aaron chuckled. "Just get Kat to slip a little of the good shit into the water bottle, and you'll loosen up fine."
"Don't tempt me, Schmidt." Kerensky chuckled in return. "Keep trying for me, yeah?"
"Will do, man." Aaron offered before cutting the call with a soft click, leaving Kerensky with the softly-playing music and the sound of his car's engine humming. He racked his brain as he tapped his fingers on the wheel, trying to find a way to broach the subject with the better half.
November 29, 2087 (Council Calendar)
Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis
Tela Vasir watched the sensor readings on her small corvette's display like her life depended on it. She had gotten lucky in the Enoch system, just barely managing to get to FTL before any of these alien warships could positively identify a ship in-system. She had spent the last four days moving towards the edge of the Alpha Draconis system at sub-light, hoping to avoid lighting up the alien sensors like a firework. Thankfully, it seemed to work.
Her sensors were showing what she just had to assume were two different fleets. The idea of a race that had yet to make contact with the rest of the galactic community being able to muster a single fleet of nearly forty vessels for a relatively minor excursion was a troubling one. Just judging by the design and makeup of the ships and fleets, their doctrine was alien to her.
Of the forty ships, six were dreadnought-weight; a massively overkill ratio compared to most fleets in Council space. What was strange, though, was that two of the six 'dreadnoughts' seemed to lack any heavy weapons hardpoints, only having point-defense armaments and a massive array of hangar bays and launch tubes for fighters.
The lighter vessels that registered as cruisers on her display were equally strange. They didn't have the larger spinal-mounted mass drivers that were common across virtually every navy in the galaxy. Most of their armament was arranged all across the hull, and included just about every weapons system she could imagine. Everything from mass driver batteries in rotating turret mounts all the way to massive missile launch silos. The differences among the twelve cruisers across the two fleets also suggested that they had several classes of cruiser, and each seemed more refined than the last.
There was also a lighter vessel that seemed to be a sort of bridge between a frigate and cruiser, making up a sizable chunk of the armada's numbers. These ships did have the spinal-mount cannons, but they seemed oversized for the hull. Other than a few missile systems and point-defense weapons, they were relatively lightly armed.
The frigates were the most sensible ships to her. If she had to guess, their main role was to screen for missiles and strike craft judging by the point-defense capabilities her sensor package could detect. Right when she was about to pack it in and prepare to make the jump back to Enoch, her heart dropped into her gut as she heard her pilot call out from across the deck. "Vasir! Something's got a radar lock on us!"
That was impossible. She hadn't detected anything close enough to make use of radar, let alone get an accurate lock in all of the nebula gases and comets that cradled this system. Right when she was going to ask her pilot to verify, she cast a glance back to her sensor station and saw four sets of engines burning hot for her corvette's bow. They were less than a thousand kilometers away… why didn't the sensors detect them?
"Unknown vessel, do not engage your engines or your weapons, or you will be fired upon! State your intentions immediately!" The comms console beside her Asari pilot's chair crackled to life. She was surprised to find herself able to understand it perfectly, as it was in a pre-translated Asari dialect. Vasir shared a shocked look with her pilot as she linked the comms console to her omni-tool. "I repeat, state your intentions immediately, or you will be fired upon!"
"This is Tela Vasir, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance." Vasir began, surprising even herself by just how composed she sounded. From the corner of her eye, she could see several of the vessels in the alien fleet begin burning for her edge of the system on her sensor readout. "I am an agent of the Citadel Council, here on direct orders from the Council to assess rumors of a first-contact situation."
There was a moment of silence as she watched one of the strike fighters buzz her ship. She didn't get long to get a look at it, but it was a sleek thing, far more-so than any other fighter she had seen. Somehow, the damn thing was almost completely invisible to her sensors. "Acknowledged. Proceed along this exact course to dock with the Geronimo. We'll guide you in."
Vasir shared another glance with her pilot, who was visibly shaken by the events of the past few minutes. Somehow, these aliens had managed to detect a stationary ship with cold engines, and intercept said ship with some sort of stealth fighter. "Acknowledged." Vasir nodded to no one in particular, turning to her pilot. "Best go along with them for now. If they wanted us dead, we'd be slag right now… I think."
Vasir looked on in awe as she watched a collection of aliens that looked far too-similar to Asari for her liking awaiting her as she stepped out of the airlock. Two of the three aliens were outfitted in surprisingly advanced-looking hardsuits and carrying carbine-length rifles. The third was easy to identify as an officer, judging by its lack of armor in favor of a rather simple dark blue jumpsuit with metal pins in the collar and shoulders.
"Spectre agent Tela Vasir?" The alien in the jumpsuit asked, his voice automatically translated to the Asari language by a device mounted to his wrist. If Vasir had to guess, it was a rudimentary equivalent to an omni-tool. "Fleet Admiral Nils Carlsen, Confederate Navy." He held out an open hand to her, and she simply looked down at it in confusion. "Ah, sorry. It's a handshake. It's a human gesture."
Vasir tentatively shook the man's hand after a moment of consideration. "Apologies for the scare, but we weren't expecting visitors." Carlsen offered, gesturing down the hallway. "Please, if you would?"
Vasir followed alongside the human, trying to take in what she could of the vessel she had docked with. All she knew so far was that it was one of those woefully-under armed dreadnoughts. "You caused quite the stir back on the Citadel, Admiral." Vasir offered, hearing Carlsen ask what had her sent out this way. He was surprisingly well-informed on the state of the galaxy for someone who was supposedly a first-contact. "What caused all… this?" She gestured around.
"We had a few hundred refugees arrive in one of our frontier colonies." Carlsen explained, leading Vasir into a surprisingly homely office, complete with a desk and haptic interface computer terminal. She sat down across from Carlsen as he gestured to an open seat in front of the desk. Of course, the two guards were stood on either side of the door, just behind her. "Escaped slaves from the colonies below. Asari, Turian, Salarian, Krogan, and Quarians were among their number. At the moment, most of them are still on said frontier colony."
"Most of them?" Vasir asked.
"Several were brought to our home-system for better medical care or… well, as a temporary measure while Parliament decides how to handle the situation." Carlsen sighed, reaching under his desk and producing a small insulated cup.
"You mobilized all this to liberate a slaver colony?" Vasir asked, impressed. Seeing a stable government this far into the Terminus was already surreal. One that was both stable and altruistic almost felt like a fever dream.
"We did, and quite happily." Carlsen nodded, his face notably hardening. "I had my… reservations about an intervention out here until one of the Asari refugees shared the details of life down there with me. If they'll put innocent people… including children in chains, then they'd damn sure try to do the same to us."
"How many slaves were there?" Vasir asked, already having an idea.
"Including the refugees that arrived in Nova Roma, there were just over six thousand." Carlsen explained. "And from what I understand, this was a slaver colony that had hired some sort of mercenary outfit? Eclipse I think was what one of the Turians told me."
"Lots of yellow armor and heavy mechs?" Vasir asked, earning a nod from Carlsen. "Definitely Eclipse." The Admiral's story definitely explained how he knew so damn much about the wider galaxy so far. "What's going to happen with the refugees and former slaves?"
"Parliament should be debating on it today." Carlsen shrugged. "From what I've heard through the grapevine, it's between offering residency to them and finding some way to return all of them to Council space."
"And you haven't tried to contact the Council?"
"The nebula our space lies within makes outgoing comms… spotty at best." Carlsen explained, taking a sip of his coffee. "Even then, the First Minister recommended waiting until Parliament had come to a decision before attempting to contact the Council. Looks like you solved that little problem for us anyway." He offered a small smile.
Vasir was hesitant at first, and still was to an extent, but nothing about the Admiral seemed disingenuous. These humans had mobilized forces to liberate alien slaves that anybody would have forgiven them for completely ignoring, offered temporary shelter and medical aid to refugees, and now had hosted a peaceful first-contact with the Council. There were only a few situations that Vasir would ever consider doing this, and this was definitely shaping up to be one of those situations.
"Admiral, if you'd permit me… I do have a communications repeater aboard my ship." Vasir began. "I can get you a comms link with the Council."
Carlsen seemed thoughtful for a moment. "I appreciate the offer… I'll send it up the chain."
November 31, 2087
Widow Nebula, Citadel
Councilor Tevos sighed, absentmindedly tapping her fingers on the conference table. Vasir had missed her first scheduled report, and the time for her second was slowly approaching. Mesu and Sparatus both looked about as tense as she felt. Sparatus looked like he was running through a million different possibilities in his head, while Mesu seemed to be lost in thought, absentmindedly clenching his jaw in a perfect rhythm, like he was chewing on something.
When an incoming communication from Vasir's ship finally arrived, Sparatus practically slapped the haptic display out of shock. After taking a moment to form a stable connection, all three of the councilors were stunned to see Vasir's red-tinted hologram joined by a pair of others. "Sorry for missing the first report, Councilors… I got a bit tied up. Hopefully this can make it up to you." She offered a smirk, allowing the shorter of the two aliens that she was flanked by to speak.
"Councilors, I'm First Minister Rana Bailey: head of state of the Confederate Republics of Orion." The three councilors were completely taken aback. Not only were they now making first contact, but it was with a race that was practically at parity with the Council technologically, judging by the rather advanced-looking cybernetic legs that the First Minister wore. "Joining me is Brigadier General Aleksandr Kerensky, the man who… officially made first contact with your peoples. I'd have preferred to have this meeting in-person, but Spectre Vasir tells me the Terminus is a bit… unstable at the moment."
Alright, let me explain why this is a thing when I've got so many other projects in the works.
Simply put, two of the fics I've written are just... bad. I'm hugely honored by the sheer number of people who followed them for this long. Mantle's Promise is effectively on indefinite hiatus, and I'm not planning on working on Humanity's Rebirth any more. Simply put, I don't think it's very good. I'm torn between rewriting it and simply abandoning it, leaning slightly in favor of a rewrite, but that's a good ways into the future.
I'm basically writing this as a sort of "spiritual successor" to HR. I'll leave it up for posterity's sake, but it just... after looking through some of my old notes for it, I just don't see much point in continuing it as it is. I might rewrite it, might just abandon it, but this is going to be taking its place for the time being. I know a lot of people found me through that, and having it reach so high on the ME charts on the site is insanely awesome, but it just doesn't quite meet my standards.
And before anyone asks: Yes, the year in the Council's POV is the 2080s. That's just when this is taking place in relation to ME's "normal" timeline.
With all that out of the way, I hope y'all decide to stick around for this one. I've had this one in the works for quite a while, and decided to finally send it now that I've finished one of my fics on here.
P.S.: A big inspiration for this was the Stellaris: Invicta series by Templin Institute on YT. Seriously, check it out. They make some awesome content.