"Chief Daerus, daily reports are ready for you now, sir," a female turian formally announced from a recently opened doorway.
Daerus Terril nodded in habit, failing to let his beady eyes part from the blue terminal on the desk in front of him to look at her. "Anything of note this time, Lieutenant Venicar?" he asked with a tone hinging on boredom.
"None today, sir." Her shoulders sunk as if she was disappointed for letting her commanding officer down. They quickly sprung back, unable to disrupt the stiff, professional stance required in his presence for long.
Daerus sighed and waved a hand absentmindedly. The gleaming and polished turian armor of black and gold squeaked with the motion. "Dismissed."
The female turian saluted Daerus, turned sharp, and left with brisk haste. It was only when the door closed in absence of her presence that Daerus shut down the haptic adaptive screen of his terminal. Afterwards he sat back in his chair so he could lay his forearms across the equally polished armor of his thighs.
Why has it been so quiet? he asked himself warily. He could feel frustration mounting in the back of his mind, a frustration born of lack of action. It was as though his whole day was ruined by the fact that there was no notable circumstance extreme enough to warrant his attention. Since when was this galaxy ever so still?
He stood from his bothersome chair. It had been getting increasingly uncomfortable since he had seen the first report on a frigate bearing the name "Normandy SR-2" alongside Cerberus emblems and colors. Given the fact that the SR-1 had disappeared without a word and the only other Normandy-class scout frigates were all accounted for in their respective militaries, the SR-2's existence was alarmingly sideways. After some incomplete details that hinted at the Omega-4 relay as its destination crossed his desk, it seemed to have dropped off the radar – nothing had been reported since.
Daerus shook his head and placed a pair of fingers on the thick plates of his red-marked forehead. He needed a walk.
The glowing sign above the outside of his office door caused a faint cyan hue to saturate the clean-cut hallway just beyond. It read "Chief of Intelligence", which placed him only as third in command over the Hierarchy's Military Intelligence Division, just under the Primarch and third to the Hierarchy itself. An esteemed rank, to be sure, but a rank that shouldered one of the heaviest military burdens; keeping the Hierarchy informed of anything and everything, and to filter out the details that warranted their attention so they could be passed up the chain as needed. He didn't have to walk very far before coming across one of the largest main terminal banks on the ship. The hallway opened up into a large, dim room, swathed in deep ambient blue from arrays of haptic terminal screens.
Turians of all face-colors in military uniforms sat and worked calmly with trained efficiency in blocks of clustered terminals on long tables. The open room was approximately one deck below the walkway Daerus was currently moving across, but not separated by anything more than a railing at the edge. From here he could overlook this particular group of militant information miners and eye the operations they were working on, despite the fact that the terminals were too distant to be intelligible to his eye. To do that, he had to link the terminal of interest to his own, which sat centered on the railing half-way down the walkway.
Daerus moved to it and started to look through some of the ongoing monitoring operations in hopes of catching new, raw data as it streamed across any one of his team's terminals. This was not an uncommon occurrence for him and it happened often enough to warrant a try. He cycled through a few blocks with little success, shaking his head as he moved on to each one.
Then a voice caught his ear.
"Sir!" a male turian called out. "Incoming data stream. You'll want to see this!"
Daerus recognized the voice immediately. It was Varien Sirexus. He was in charge of monitoring deep-space project communications and specialized broadcasts.
The Chief of Intelligence linked his terminal up to Varien's and studied the information collecting on his screen. He brought a hand to his chin as he worked the data through his head. He remembered the project this was supposed to be from, but it had been over a year since he'd gone over anything related to it. "Hmph. This is very late data. Sirexus, bring me up to speed on this project."
The turian cleared his throat. "The data is part of Operation Clean Sweep, a joint turian, salarian, and human military project aimed to search the far reaches of the known galaxy for potentially threatening clusters of geth and other such geth activity. This operation was executed by all three races two years ago just after the Battle of the Citadel by sending several collections of long distance scout probes into those remote regions from known locations. This is the last probe to report in. It was labeled as 'lost' due to being unaccounted for in such an extended period of time."
There was too much data in front of Daerus to infer conclusions, so he had to ask. He almost dreaded Varien's wordy response. "Any notion as to why this probe took so long to report back?"
"This was one of the probes sent out to a very remote region of space beyond the relay in the Dholen system, sir. If this data and the history of this project is anything to go by, it had to pass through a lot of empty space before it found anything. There are no listed errors that might have otherwise accounted for the silence."
The length of time in its silence wasn't the only thing that differed about this report. Somewhere well beyond the relay in the Far Rim system, an unmapped relay lay active. While this was highly unusual, it was barely a footnote compared to what information came paired with it. The magnitude of the problem in front of him caused him to swallow dryly. Feeling the need for everyone in his team to see this, Daerus sent the visuals from the probe's stealthed fly-by to the main screen that took up the majority of the far wall in the room. Silence fell over the terminal blocks as everyone looked up and subsequently failed to concentrate on their tasks. The sight on that screen was daunting, to say the least.
The image showed a massive fleet of geth ships, known and unknown, assembled around the unmapped and active relay.
"Spirits…" Daerus mumbled under his breath as he stared at the large screen and his hands involuntarily clenched. His tone was dire. "That's not going to go over well with the Hierarchy. That's quite the fleet we've missed."
He took extensive note of the baffling way the ships were arranged; a giant metallic ring, shining and reflecting the blue-white glow of the mass relay at the center. They were stationary like that, if the subsequent telemetry scans were to be believed, and they generally were. It was almost as if the geth were waiting for something. Waiting for the return of a collection of scout ships to return, perhaps? he thought. Maybe they were attempting to send data through to see if they got a response. Perhaps they encountered a hostile race on the far side and were covering all angles of the expected FTL drop zone.
Daerus was a man of facts, of details, of the known. It wasn't like him to spend so much thought on speculation so wild and unknowable. But this… This was an unusual sight to match his self-reflected unusual behavior. He could feel his stomach tighten in the most nauseating of ways as other thoughts rose unbidden.
Or… maybe they were waiting for something far, far more terrible.
Daerus heard murmurs and hushed chatter below him and his brow-plates pressed together as he listened in. It seemed the sight on the screen had made the ranks uneasy. This wasn't a known relay formation for any scenario. The purpose of the significant radius the geth seemed to maintain was difficult to interpret as well.
Daerus stood upright to address his team. "Unusual, yes, but we're the ones that see the unusual first. Keep your heads on and proceed as normal."
Data continued to stream in, but it wasn't directly from the probe. Rather, it was relayed from the archives on the Citadel where the storage was set aside for the operation as soon as it arrived. This allowed the data to be passed out on channels updated with the latest security encryptions that the probes tended to lack. That particular block, where military scouting operations were either stored or streamed from, was manned by council-picked salarian military under orders to do nothing but make sure the block is secure. They were left with explicit orders not to touch anything, even to monitor the data stream – or so Daerus had been told. He had serious doubts as to how well those few would keep to that order, especially if news that a previously unmapped and now active mass relay was discovered.
Increasingly curious, the Chief of Intelligence continued to pour over the numbers and visuals provided by their ever-helpful probe, but as he reviewed, the helmsman called over the local deck sound emitters.
Daerus lifted his eyes from his terminal to stare at the large screen again. "This is Chief Terril. Go ahead."
"Sir, the other captains in the flotilla are getting anxious over sitting here monitoring data when we've been summoned to the Citadel. What shall I tell them?"
Their cruiser, the communications behemoth named the Insight, was heading there for some political purpose Daerus did not care for, and the skittish behavior of the captains that always surfaced whenever the Citadel or council was involved irked him terribly. This time, however, the timing proved to be convenient. He'd soon be able to look at the raw data for himself and discuss this classified information with a few admirals.
Daerus sighed, loud and long. "The Citadel makes a house call and everyone within five lightyears of the ship pisses their armor. Tell them we—"
Daerus was interrupted by an alarm on his terminal and a flashing red section of his screen pulled his attention away from the unnerving ring of geth ships on the wall.
"Security breach!" shouted Kalin Thortus, who was the chief of security monitoring. "Backdoor to the Citadel archives military scouting data cluster has been opened!"
"What…?" Daerus wondered aloud with a calm tilt of the head. Citadel network and data security was bleeding edge and generally hosted on a network not accessible from external nodes. How in the galaxy did someone manage to open a back door at all? Worst of all, he knew this information was several minutes old at best—even military priority on the comm buoy tightbeams took time to cross the galaxy.
"Isolate and extrapolate," Daerus ordered, swift and absolute. "How wide is the breach? And get me the manner of entry. No self-entitled code pyjack on the extranet could just tunnel into the archives." He spat those words, as though such a breach was an insult to his profession.
"Isolating…" Thortus declared. "Looks local to that data block, sir. Only the details to this particular operation have been compromised. A highly precise breach."
"This is… also local, sir. Reports show that the ports were deliberately opened on the host machine's own command lines."
Daerus shook his head, a low growl held back in his throat. "This is why we don't leave personnel with minimum clearance to secure the storage." He sighed angrily, letting his emotions show for just a moment. "Shut down the block and have those posted apprehended. Find me the Dalatrass that insisted on this 'security measure' and have her routed to my terminal in five. And for the love of the Spirits, alert the council that there are rogue salarians trouncing about their beloved archives." Delegation. Quick, precise, efficient.
Several quick acknowledgements sounded off from the individuals tasked with those orders and one or two turians moved out of the room with purpose in their swift steps while others focused hard on their terminals. Daerus looked back to his data and linked up the proper terminal to get some information on the breach itself. It was a crude but effective console exploit that allowed opening of unused network resources and ports. Curious, Daerus mused. It must have been an oversight due to how few are even permitted into the archives. The next security summit will be hearing about this for certain.
Once he could confirm that the breach had been contained, he let the heightened tension in his shoulders slip away. It took around fourteen minutes for the order to reach the Citadel, or so he calculated. It took nearly another thirty for the containment confirmation to return to his terminal. The staunch chief then realized his relaxation was premature, judging by the quick and dirty report that was filed with the confirmation.
Beady eyes flicked over the grammatically lax bits of information, and he cursed under his breath. It seemed that a few very timely connections had been made to the data cluster when the salarians opened it up and had started mining data before the hardline was cut. Only two had gotten anything of note, however. One was a late connection that managed to get enough data to detail out the coordinates of the relay and a small collection of minor details. The other one, however, must have been a coordinated attempt as the connection was made mere minutes after the breach was complete. That one had nearly all the information that had been relayed from the Citadel to the Insight.
That wasn't even the worst of it. Thanks to some curiously specific meddling done by those same salarians, crucial pieces of information needed to trace those remote connections had been fragmented to the point of uselessness. The best they would be able to piece together is what star system the connection came from. Not exactly the kind of pinpoint accuracy they needed to stage a cease and desist raid.
"Terril to the bridge," he called across the comms as he leaned firm against the railing behind his terminal, his arms spread wide around the screen. His grip was tight and his armor squelched as his fingers wrapped around it. "Take us into FTL. We need to hit the Citadel yesterday."
"What about your call to the Dalatrass, sir?" one of the turians below reminded him.
"The Dalatrass can wait," he shot back, firm and unyielding. I'd much rather rake the coals under her feet in front of the council for this blunder, he silently added. "Soon as we arrive, send for my office on the Presidium to be prepped."
Acknowledgement rang out and Daerus stood upright, rigid. In truth, he wasn't looking forward to the silly antics and political fallout this could potentially create, but he was nothing if not a difficult turian when it came to security, cyber or not. Such absurd oversight, or worse, intentional placement, spat in the face of everything he worked for in this position. Undermining his work ruffled his metaphorical feathers more than almost anything.
The chief shut down his railing-side terminal for now and started back towards his office. His mind was blanketed with thoughts of that relay and the geth in their extremely unorthodox formation. The more he thought about it, the more his stomach wrought. He had to sit down. Just how am I going to get them to pay attention to this when an archives breach just occurred? He didn't think that would even ping on his peers' radar after something like that.
Back in his office, he sat down in his chair heavily and pulled himself to the proper sitting position at his desk. His terminal blinked to life automatically and he called upon the data from the probe once more. He stared at the image with furrowed browplates, his brain churning and formulating as he tried to come up with some logical conclusion, but the only ones that made even remote sense were the ones he had thought up earlier.
It was then that he gave the general location of the relay some thought. They're days away from linking up to nearby comm buoy, he thought with a fist passively brought to his mouth. How long have they been there? Are they even active? As far as he could tell from the sequence of images taken by the fly-by, none of them even moved. They seemed suspended in place. Even that did not quell the uneasiness that caused his flesh to tingle under his hard carapace, however. There was something incredibly off about this, but he dared not send any host to investigate.
"Sir," a female voice called to him, the familiar flange of her voice distorted by the intra-vessel comms.
"Not now, Venicar." He waved his hand in dismissal as if she were there with him.
"You ordered us to notify you of this immediately, sir." She didn't even sound sorry, that blasted woman.
Daerus sighed. And sat back in his chair, jaw clenched for but a moment. "Very well, what is it?"
"There was some information in the last burst of data before we jumped to FTL, sir. That human you asked us to track… the one with shady connections?"
"What of him? Has he been found?" he asked curtly. This man had held Daerus's interest for near a year now. His connections were undeniably powerful, but were barely shadows in his wake. He seemed to leave webs of malicious intent everywhere he went, but only one who managed to track him as long as Daerus had could even begin to see them, well played as they were.
"Indeed. One of our agents on the Citadel spotted him leaving the embassies. He has plans to 'take a vacation' on Omega."
Daerus leaned forward and laced his six fingers together in interest as he put weight onto the arms resting just shy of the holographic interface on the desk. "Do we have an available agent there?"
Having this man drop by Omega was fortunate. He could order in a cabal squad once he had some solid evidence on the dealing he was about to partake in. No deals this man made were for the benefit of all within Citadel space, and he had no shortage of confidence that getting this information from him while he was busy working his magic during his stay on the rock would be just a matter of time.
"We do. He is currently unassigned."
"Have him make preparations for Werner's arrival. I want the docking guard wherever he makes berth thinned out so we have an opening for apprehension."
As long as no one who cared was aware, he wouldn't have to risk any galactic political blowback. Not until he had his leads, at least. The plan hinged on that moment, however, and he couldn't make any moves unless he had that moment of obscurity. His connections could cut him off completely if they found he was compromised, and a wise man knew that eyes were always watching on that station. He knew that all too well.
"There's one more thing, sir."
"He's being followed."
Daerus parted his hands and set them on the desk as he frowned, his mandibles clenching to his cheeks and sliding downward while he gripped the edge of the table tightly.