"Michael," the Spartan's AI muttered into his ear piece, "An alert has just been sent out from Sol's reconnaissance HQ. An anomaly has been detected roughly five light-years from our position. The signatures are similar to the properties of the mass distortions of these new race's ships."

Michael glanced back to Stramus. From the look on her face she had gotten the message too. "Aris," he said so that only the AI could hear. "Is this a fleet of some kind? Are these xenos attempting to set us up or something?"

"Impossible to tell."

"How long do we have?"

"At the anomaly's current velocity, less than two hours, maybe. Just before we arrived up here Hackett sent out orders to all of our ship's captains to initiate battle formations one hour from now if nothing changes."

Just fantastic, Michael thought to himself. Something big is approaching and I'm stuck in space. Michael always preferred to have his feet on solid ground. On land, he could actually do something; make plans and fight back. On a ship, he was pretty much dead weight; his life dependent on the naval skill of the ship's crew. Though, now that he thought about it, his team was perfect for specialized boarding parties on enemy vessels, especially with his suits slip-space translocation abilities, so he may not be so useless after all. "Aris, my team—"

"—has already been notified. They are gearing up as we speak. A general alert will be sent out to the entire fleet in an hour."

His mind a little more at ease, he turned his attention back to the diplomatic envoy. Although Hackett was obviously aware of the incoming… something, he showed no sign of it as the xenos approached him in the heart of the ship. Michael had to admit, the Command Center offered an impressive view. Kilometers in the 'sky', surrounded by clear glass panes, he could see nearly the entirety of the Atrium Grounds. From rolling green hills to flowing rivers populated by exotic wildlife, they may as well have been on a lush garden planet. He had to mentally remind himself that he was indeed on a ship, and that the 'outside' view was in fact a very large self-contained ecosystem inside a very large room.

When the aliens stood in front of Hackett, he stepped forward, addressing the whole group. "Welcome aboard the UNSC Light of Sol. I am Admiral Steven Hackett." Nodding to each xeno, he acknowledged them individually. "Captain Alenna T'Velos, General Fealix, Dr. Liara T'Soni, Saren Arterius, Dr. Mordin Solus; welcome to our domain."

"I think I'm gonna be sick." Doran was holding the sides of his stomach, looking as if he was about to puke at any moment. He and Captain Miles were onboard a transport shuttle heading for the Edifice, a journey that would have taken much longer if they had not utilized one of many of the Sol's portals strewn about the ship.

"It'll pass," Miles assured him. Slip space translocation was always a bit jarring for first timers. The captain remembered the first time he had used them on his first day of officer training school. It felt like his insides were made of jelly, made all the worse by drill instructors whom immediately began yelling in his face like a fresh private in basic. Doran didn't look reassured, offering only a sickly moan in response. Miles shrugged. It hit some harder than others.

The shuttle touched down on a pad near the lift entrance to the command center. Miles got out, going around the vehicle to aid Doran. The Lieutenant wavered a bit as he stood, then waved the captain off. "I'll be fine. Just let's not do that again."

The two hurried to the lift, only to be stopped by the security staff.

Before any of the staff could even say a word, Miles blurted, "I'm Captain Miles of the UNSC Hades Gate. I must see Hackett immediately. I have information critical to the security of the UNSC."

"Admiral Hackett is in the middle of negotiations. No one may enter the Edifice," The staffer, a Petty Officer Third Class, said bluntly. "Sir," he added, perhaps remembering who he was speaking to.

"I am well aware of what Hackett is doing." Miles folded his arms. "Contact his staff and let them know that I have critical information that needs to come to his attention urgently."

"I can pass along your message to his staff but I can't let you enter…"

"This is confidential information! Not something you just shout over the airwaves kid." Miles was growing impatient. Doran recognized the Captain's commanding voice. "Soldier, I am ordering you to step aside."

The petty officer looked hesitant, but still refused to budge. "Sir, I can't do that. I have direct orders from Hackett himself not to let anyone enter."

What followed next came minutes of back-and-fourth arguments between Miles and the guards, four more of which had joined the commotion. Miles may have considered just pushing past the group, if not for the fact that two of the guards were freaking Mgalekgolo, and he did not fancy being apprehended by the beasts, or being crushed to death.

It was at this time that Doran noticed a semi-sized civilian variant Pelican drift towards their location, landing about fifteen meters behind them. Several black and gray combat suits exited the vehicle, weapons in hand, and approached them purposefully. Doran recognized those suits anywhere. They were part of ONI's Special Forces division, the agency's own shadow military in a sense. These soldiers were not standard UNSC, and took orders from no one but ONI command. Rumor had it that ONI deployed these forces to instigate the many civil unrests among the former Covenant species following the Great War, and may have even propagated the Sanghelli Civil War itself. But there was never any hard evidence. Not surprising for the ubiquitous agency, who seemed to have its ever reaching fingers in every faucet of human, and increasingly non-human society.

One more person exited the vehicle behind the ONI soldiers, a middle aged woman in a black and gray civilian dress suit. The slender brunette held a briefcase in one hand and a datapad in the other. Attached to her hip was a handgun, an M6 series if Doran guessed right. She looked like a spook if he ever saw one.

A moment of terror gripped him. They're here for me. They think that I divulged important information about humanity to the aliens. They think I'm a threat. Doran involuntarily shuttered. He was well aware of what ONI does to perceived threats.

"Uh, Captain."

Miles didn't seem to hear him, too enthralled in a heated argument.

"Captain!" Drawing everyone's attention, he said, "It looks like we have company."

"ONI," Miles whispered under his breath, recognizing them instantly. He tried to hide his surprise. "This should be interesting."

The soldiers formed a semi-circle around them, weapons aimed to the ground but clearly ready for use. The human guards that Miles was arguing with before now seemed to be hiding behind his presence. Understandable. ONI soldiers had cutting-edge technology at their disposal, often partook in unscrupulous orders, and were highly lethal.

And they didn't answer to the standard UNSC chain of command.

The ONI spook approached Miles and offered her hand. He took it cautiously. "Hello Captain Miles. Veronica Davenport, Head of ONI's Special Ethics division."

Miles raised a brow. "I wasn't aware that ONI had an ethics division."

The woman offered a coy grin as she took off her smart glasses and slipped them in her pocket, revealing her jade-green eyes. "We do, just not the kind that you might think."

"Care to explain all…" he gestured to the black-suited soldiers, "…this?"

"A necessary precaution in my area of expertise," she replied nonchalantly.


The woman nodded. "Yes, ethics."

Miles demeanor changed from disbelieving to anger rather quickly. "If you're here for Doran then you can forget it. I have expressed orders from Hackett himself that—"

"We don't take orders from Hackett," Veronica interrupted. "Regardless, no, I am not here for Lieutenant Doran. In fact, under my orders, ONI has dismissed all inquiries into Mr. Doran involving the mind-contact incident, and will no longer seek to question him further."

"Really?" Doran asked hopefully, already looking a bit more relieved. "Why would you do that?"

"Consider it an offer of goodwill. ONI would like ask for your cooperation for the security of human space." She turned her attention back to Miles. "Please, if you two would come with me to ONI headquarters on Sol I can explain more."

Miles scanned over the armored soldiers again. "Do I have a choice in the matter?"

"As I said, they are only here for precaution. You always have a choice Captain. But before you make it, please, just hear me out. If you don't like what I have to offer then you can walk away, no strings attached."

Miles studied her. The woman didn't look arrogant or smug like other ONI spooks he had crossed before. She seemed genuinely sincere. An act to be sure, but he had to admit that he now found himself curious. As ever though, the practical part of his mind took over.

"Now is not a good time. I have to see Hackett immediately. There's something he needs to know that is—"

The ONI spook was quick to stop him. "We know what you want to tell him Captain Miles, and you needn't bother. I can assure you that he is very much aware of the alien biology."

Miles felt stunned. "But how…?"

"Because we informed him during the convoy to the system." Seeing Miles face stoop further into confusion, she explained, "ONI and the UNSC may have different methods, but our goals are the same; the preservation of the human race. Contrary to popular opinion, we do shareinformation from time to time."

Miles thought on that. It still didn't make sense. His own Huragok didn't get any DNA samples until the aliens boarded his ship. And that was after Hackett's convoy arrived. The timeline didn't match up. "But how did ONI know?"

"We are ONI," she stated bluntly, as if that was supposed to explain everything. "Now, are you going to keep pestering these poor guards to tell Hackett what he already knows, or will you come with me? I promise you'll be interested in what I have to offer."

Miles exchanged glances with Doran, who shrugged in response. He didn't trust ONI, probably never would, but what harm could be done in at least hearing what this strange woman had to say? Reluctantly, he nodded. "Okay Ms. Davenport. Lead the way."

The ONI spook offered that brilliant smile once more. "Thank you Captain, and please, call me Veronica."

They know, Hackett thought. They had too. When the Captain of the Hades Gate sent out the First Contact message as per protocol, he also sent with it the human genome. So the aliens have to know.

When the head of ONI contacted him about this discovery during his transit to the system, Hackett at first thought that Serin Osman had finally lost her mind. A different species of humans living thousands of light-years away? It was a preposterous notion to make. Then, Osman began to divulge more confidential ONI information, such as how, at the ancient human world of Charum Hakkor twenty years ago, ONI researchers came across a wealth of information on humanity's past civilization and their war with the Forerunners. How they discovered hidden vaults that stood the test of time. How, in those vaults, was information about the last desperate decades of the millennia long human-forerunner war. Among many things, the ancient humans had apparently thought of fail safes in case of the very real possibility of extinction.

And of those fail safes, one of them mentioned mutating the human genome to create an entirely new subset of humanity. One that the humans could place on a planet far away from the relentless Forerunners and that could still reproduce even without others of its kind. One that, buried in this subset's DNA, remained the original human genome at the height of their ancient power, hidden so cleverly that even a Tier 1 civilization would be hard-pressed to lift the dormant strands.

When Hackett asked how this information, while interesting, had anything to do with the current situation, she admitted that while they had little information about this apparent fail safe plan, they did discover an image of the supposed human subset, long locked away in a slip-stream data crystal. When she revealed the image to him he recognized it instantly. It was of the blue humanoids. The ones that looked oh-so very human.

Going forward now was going to be… interesting, to say the least.

And to add on top of things, something was apparently heading straight for the system.

"Thank you for your hospitality Admiral Steven Hackett," Alenna replied. "While it is unfortunate that our peoples had to meet under such dire circumstances, I am glad that we can come together peacefully."

"Dire circumstances indeed," Hackett responded. "I too am glad that this meeting can take place peacefully, however I am saddened to say that we might have to cut this short."

Alenna frowned. "What do you mean Admiral?"

"A contingent of unknown entities has been detected heading towards the system. We believe it may be a fleet. And a sizable one at that." Alenna's frown only deepened further.

"A fleet?" Fealix asked. "What do you know so far?"

"Actually I was hoping that you could enlighten me," Hackett said. "The entities match the mass-shifting energy outputs of your own vessels." The insinuation was subtle, but clear.

"If you're talking about element zero, then of course it does," Fealix replied. "All ships use element zero for FTL travel." A brief pause. "Well, almost all that is."

"Admiral, I can assure you that we know of no such fleet you speak of. How long until it reaches the system?" Alenna asked in trepidation.

"Soon." Hackett sighed. "I am beginning to think that this system isn't the best place to conduct these talks. We're in a hot zone that for one reason or another has the interest of various factions." Hackett turned to Alenna with a pertinent gaze. "There are some rather shocking revelations that our peoples must discuss. And we can't do that in an active warzone."

Could he mean…?

"Yes Admiral, you are right." She stared back at Hackett, picking her words carefully. "What revelations are you referring too?"

"Among many things; our histories, technologies, territorial boundaries." He looked at her pointedly. "Our biology."

Alenna raised her eyelids a fraction of an inch, before stifling her reaction. Nodding, she said, "Of course. What do you propose?"

"We can't conduct diplomacy here. In a few hours this system may be swarming with enemy ships." Hackett walked to a nearby holo-table, gesturing for the group to follow. He brought up a display, showing the large distortion they had detected. "Something big is heading for the system, and I can only imagine that they are well prepared. We will stay and secure the system. You," he gestured to all of them, "should accompany our own diplomat Sergio to a safe location so we can conduct our talks in peace."

"Makes sense," Mordin, the Salarian scientist, spoke for the first time. "And I think I might know who's heading towards us."

"If you know anything at all, it would be a tremendous help," Hackett said.

"It is only speculation, but," the speedy Salarian continued, "based on the high distortion signatures in a relatively confined space, and the velocity of the moving object, would speculate more Geth."

"Why would you say that?" General Fealix thought it was probable to be more Geth for his own reasons, but wanted to know why Mordin thought so too.

"Look how closely the mass distortions are grouped together," the scientist pointed. "Any organic species would never travel in FTL with ships packed together so tightly." Indeed they were close. It almost looked like one solid unit on the projector. "Even though more efficient, too dangerous."

"But obviously machines aren't concerned with physical safety," Fealix concluded.

"Yes, and speed is comparable with known Geth ship technology. No proof. But data fits speculation."

"I agree," Fealix said. "I thought it was strange for the Geth to travel with so small a force given the importance of this system." Hackett gave him a strange look, which the Turian general didn't seem to notice. "It seems that the initial Geth were only a scouting fleet for a much larger contingent."

"If so," Hackett inquired, "then why attack? Typically a scouting fleet would be used for reconnaissance and assessment only."

"Because they are machines," the Turian answered. "They must have calculated that regardless of the outcome of the first battle, their main fleet would easily take the system. And the odds were in their favor anyway. They just weren't expecting your kind to intervene."

It made sense to Hackett, but he had to ask. "Would they willingly sacrifice their own scouting fleet like that?"

"Absolutely," Mordin said. "They are just programs."

Hackett frowned at the thought of fighting ruthlessly efficient machines that didn't fear death. In fact, the whole situation was really starting to irritate him. He was choosing sides, helping this 'council' faction because they initiated what seemed like peaceful contact. But he was felt that he was gambling everything, including the lives of his fleet, based on what they told him, with no way of verifying any of it. Still, what other option did he have? "Okay, so we assume this force is more of these Geth. We're going to need everything you know about them to protect this system and save as many lives as possible."

"I'm afraid that won't be much," Fealix said. "The Geth are extremely reclusive. They haven't been seen outside their section of the galaxy for 300 years, and any ships who approach their territory are always met with force."

That brought up another issue nagging at the back of Hackett's mind. "Then why now? Why are they so interested in this system?"

"Oh come on Sir," a deep, synthesized voice chided. "Isn't it quite obvious?"

An image of a red sphere that was lit aflame projected itself onto the holo-table. Hackett seemed unsurprised by the hologram's sudden insertion. "What do you mean, Prometheus?"

"The same reason the council species are here," the hologram replied. "These aliens don't know about slip space travel. The technology may be greatly beneficial for them. Especially given the woefully inefficient travel speeds of their own FTL method."

"Woefully inefficient?" The other Turian, Saren, spoke for the first time. Hackett thought he looked slightly offended.

The flaming sphere asked, "The speeds of this supposed Geth force heading our way, is this comparable with the speeds of your own engines?"

The Turian general, Fealix, was the one to answer, twitching his mandibles uneasily. "Actually, the Geth are slightly faster."

"I see. Well, that would suggest that the maximum speed of your engines to be about 39 billion kilometers per hour, or about 15 light years for one of your standard Citadel days, is that correct?"

The Turian agreed. "More or less."

"Well, some of our slip space engines, including the ones on my ship, allow us to travel up to 2,280 light years per day."

The Council aliens didn't even try to hide their surprise. "That is… quite fast indeed," Fealix said. A part of him was excited that such a technology existed. Another part dreaded what would happen if they ever came into conflict with these peoples. Two-thousand light years per day? How could they compete with that? That's…

"One-hundred fifty times faster than the most efficient Mass Effect engines," Mordin summarized. "Intriguing." He gave the holo-sphere a considering gaze. "What are you exactly? The ship's VI?"

"I am Prometheus, a 5th generation AI and overseer of all operations onboard Sol."

Admittedly Hackett didn't know much about these alien's fascial expressions, but the look of shock, and even apprehension, was clearly evident on their faces. All except the Salarian. "Is something wrong?"

"It's just…" Alenna began, thinking of the right words to say without offending him. "Given how dangerous Artificial Intelligences are, we find it wise not to use them. In fact, one of the few absolute perquisites that all species must abide by to join the Council is the outlawing of all AI research and development."

"You think they're dangerous?"

"Of course," she replied, as of the very idea was self-evident. "The very Geth heading for us as we speak is proof of that. They nearly wiped out their own creators."

Hackett wasn't sure how to feel about that. It seemed like such a short sided kind of policy, and a very impractical one at that. Sure, an AI could be dangerous. Exceptionally so. But then, so could organics. As far as Hackett was concerned, AIs were no worse than the beings who created them.

Not to mention that they were too damn useful. Besides, didn't they have fail-safes in place in case of rampancy? Questions for another time he supposed.

"Well Captain Alenna, I can assure you that our AIs are completely safe and quite capable. And I trust Prometheus here explicitly."

"I… Of course." Seeking to change the subject, she said, "You said we should accompany Ambassador Sergio to a safe location. What do you have in mind?"

Hackett nodded. "Our fleet will stay here and protect the system. I would like all of you, however, to travel to Earth with our ambassadors to begin diplomatic relations."

Earth? Alenna had heard that name before, but where?

"Earth. Isn't that your home world?" her companion Liara asked, speaking for the first time.

Oh, right. Now Alenna remembered. The name was from the first contact message the aliens had sent. Goddess that seemed like ages ago.

The Admiral nodded, bringing up a projection of a ship on the holo-table. "This ship is called Poseidon. It is one of our fasted vessels, though not as fast as Sol. It's about the size of a frigate and is designed to ferry people to places very quickly. This ship can make it to Earth in a few hours."

Hackett brought up another projection. "From there, you'll travel through a large portal which will lead you to the Ark."

Alenna examined the hologram with fascination. This 'Ark' was obviously a space station of some kind. In some ways it reminded her of the Citadel. But whereas the ancient Prothean station had five prolonged arms stretching out into a cone, this station's 'arms' were spread widely into a slightly concave shape. And unlike the Citadel, there were eight protruding arms instead of five—four larger ones in a cross with four smaller ones intersecting them at a forty-five degree angle.

Upon closer inspection though, Alenna noticed some odd things. The first and most obvious was the large whole in the center of the station, inside which floated a spherical object surrounded by the void of space. It almost looked like… a planet? What?

The second thing, which made her do a double take, was surface of the station itself. There were a multitude of blue and green colors, and what looked like landmasses, oceans, rivers, mountains, city lights…

…Huh? She stepped closer to the hologram, as did Mordin and Liara beside her. If she didn't know any better, she would say she was looking at the surface of a garden world, not a space station. What was this?

"This 'Ark'. This can't be…" The Salarian shook his head. For the first time ever, Mordin looked genuinely perplexed. "What is the scale of this station?"

Hackett could admit, he was kind of amused and even a little prideful at their reactions. He knew these aliens saw themselves as the top dogs of galaxy. Oh, they were in for quite a rude awakening. Still, he tampered down any childish sense of superiority he felt, and reminded himself that this station was itself Forerunner, not human.

Though he didn't need to tell the aliens that yet.

Zooming the image out to show its location relative to the galaxy, he answered. "The Ark is located over 260,000 light years from the center of our galaxy, in the void of intergalactic space, and is 100,000 kilometers in length. The surface is completely terraformed for a wide variety of different climates, and is kept warm by the stations artificial sun. The planetoid you see in the center is a captured moon that is mined for resources to keep the station functioning properly. The Ark serves as the headquarters of the UNSC."

The council members stood aghast, staring blankly at the hologram in disbelief. Even Saren didn't bother to hide his astonishment.

"One hundred thousand kilometers?!" Alenna blurted. "Surely that's a translation error."

"It is not," the holographic AI said. "That would be equivalent to 92,000 kilometers by your standard citadel measurement."

"But… then this thing would be larger than planets!" Mordin sounded ecstatic.

"Goddess, that's… I'm sorry," Liara said. "I find something of that size, located so far away from the galaxy, a little hard to believe." The Citadel was the largest artificial construct in the known galaxy, each arm measuring a staggering 44 kilometers in length. But this? This was beyond anything she could have imagined. It was incomprehensible. This was planetary engineering.

Hackett merely shrugged. "You will see for yourself soon enough."

Prometheus' blue flame changed to orange. "Sir, the incoming force is just one hour away from the system."

"Alright." The admiral sighed. "I must ask that you depart immediately. The Poseidon is ready for transit and I must prepare for battle. You'll be escorted to the ship from here."

"Oh yes, of course." Alenna had to struggle to pull her eyes from the Ark projection. If what the human said was true, then that station was at least ten times the diameters of her home world, Thessia. It was so unbelievable! Despite her misgivings about putting her life solely in the hands of these people, she just had to see for herself. "We can leave now, though I ask that we be allowed to communicate with our respective governments first."

Hackett nodded, and was about to say his farewells, when Fealix spoke.

"Admiral, I'm afraid I won't be accompanying the diplomats." the general said. "My soldiers are in this system too and I must remain here to lead them. In fact, I would like to ask for your cooperation in defending the system against the Geth, or whoever these attackers might be."

Hackett considered the Turian's word for a moment. On the one hand, he would like to have all the help he could get, especially from someone who know about these Geth and actually fought them. On the other, they could just as likely get in the way. And in battle having two commanders making separate decisions could be deadly.

Coming to the best solution he could think of, Hackett said, "Alright, but I would like your forces stay in reserve unless we really need you."

General Fealix seemed slightly perturbed at being told to stay on the sidelines, but did not voice his displeasure. It was the humans' system, after all. And at the very least, it would allow him to evaluate how their technology stacked up to mass effect tech.

"It is decided then," Hackett said. "General Fealix, you will be escorted to a shuttle. The rest of you will board Poseidon. Onboard you will be able to communicate with your own ships, and through them your governments."

Prometheus reappeared. "You will have 40 minutes of communication before the ship departs. That's about half of one of your citadel hours," the sphere finished.

Alenna bowed her head. "Thank you. That is very gracious. We wish you luck and will pray for your victory. Hopefully the next time we meet will be under less-strenuous circumstances."

Hackett offered a hand, which Alenna recognize as that odd human custom that Doran had used. She grabbed it tentatively.

"It's been a pleasure. Thank you." He motioned for the guards to escort the crew to their destinations.

Captain Miles felt a sense of apprehension and, maybe, just maybe, a little excitement as he ordered his crew to engage the stealth mode onboard his Corvette Hades Gate.

Damn that woman. He would curse her name to the void, if not for the fact that she was standing two feet to his left.

When she told Miles of the impending fleet that was about to strike the system, his first instinct was to recall his crew back to his ship and get ready to assist the UNSC in battle. He wouldn't have been on the front lines—his vessel wasn't designed for that—but he could help in gathering information and maybe even place a few hidden strikes while invisible.

But it was not to be. Apparently, the egg-heads back home were furious at his brash actions during the first battle, and were screaming for his head. Miles would have accepted whatever fate was coming to him—he knew that when he made the decision to help—but it wasn't just his ass on the line anymore. For one, the terrible ONI vixen very politely and sweetly told him straight up that her clearing of Lieutenant Doran could just as easily be reversed. Not by her, she implored, but by her very angry bosses that she couldn't stop. Yeah right.

But of course, she 'offered' a way out of such a grim future. Which was really just her attempt to turn him into an agent of their bidding.

"Complete this mission for us", she had said. "And all charges and inquiries will be dropped. I'm sorry, but it's the only way I can keep the hounds off you."

It was all bullshit.

If it was just his future at stake, he would have simply laughed at ONI's attempt at blackmail. He certainly wouldn't put his crew in such a dangerous mission just to clear his name. But then, what would happen to Doran?

"What if I refuse? I won't force my crew through this."

Even if the mission did seem really intriguing.

"Then you'll be removed from command and face the wolves yourself," The ONI spook said matter-of-factly. "And your crew is going on the mission anyway. It's our only stealth capable ship here and the only one that can transit the relay without being detected. So your crew is going regardless of what you do. The only question is, will it be you who commands them, or some ONI agent?"

Miles sighed. He should have known. In the end ONI always gets what they want.

Not that he didn't find the mission itself to be interesting, even though he would be traveling into the unknown. Still, he felt guilty for getting his crew into this mess because of his own mistakes. But… if they were ordered to go anyway, then it really wasn't much of a choice. At least now he could get Doran and himself off the hook.

"They're headed for the relay Sir," his AI Athena said.

Right on time. As Veronica had predicted, the alien ship, the Seloria or something, was preparing to exit the system for safety as the enemy fleet approached.

"Follow no closer than five thousand kilometers out," he ordered.

So, he was whiplashed into spending the next couple of months spying on the Council region of space, with no back up and only their stealth technology for help. Wonderful.

But to get through the relay undetected, they needed to transit the machine at almost the exact same time as one of council vessels, so that their energy spikes could remain hidden, or so agent Davenport claimed.

"Are you sure this will work?" Miles said quietly to the spook, perhaps a little bitterly. "Like, how do you know we don't need some specialized engine to cross this thing?"

"The AIs seem to think it'll be fine."

"So you don't know then," the captain concluded.

She shrugged. "Nope."

Miles glared, but she simply smiled back. Ugh, quite cheery for a woman risking her life on what some AI told her.

"We're ten kilometers from the relay, approaching fast," Athena warned.

Being this close really allowed Miles to appreciate the size of the construct, which absolutely dwarfed his vessel. On the holoscreen, he could see the ship that they were following become engulfed in the strange energy.

"Alright everyone," Athena said. "Hold on to your butts!"

'Ugh, this is not the time for ancient cliché movie lines!'

"If we die from this," Miles addressed Veronica, "I'm gonna—"

The entire ship vibrated. In an instant, the vessel ahead of them vanished from space. A few seconds later, so did they.

In a blink of an eye, Miles and his crew were transitioned sixteen-thousand light years away.