As I lifted from the landing pad at Hammel Terminal, the Vortigaunt ponderously pointing her nose towards the letterbox as the thrusters kicked in, the Galnet article played back in my mind.

Unidentified Artefacts, they’re calling them. It’s a non-name really – tells you nothing. Which is appropriate, given that that’s about how much they know about them. I thought they were a myth until today. Amazing how much the galaxy moves on in your absence.

Apparently they’re very much real. Vaguely organic-looking, weird glowing objects people keep finding out in space. They say they make noise too – a sort of chirruping. The article said that they reckon the noise is coded schematics of ships. Human ships. I don’t know what to think of that.

And now there are ‘tens of thousands’ of them out there, in the Pleiades Nebula. Tens of thousands. What the hell is going on?

If they’re alien – if – that will be the first contact for… about fifty years. And that brings me back to my chat with the girl at Universal Cartographics.

After I’d sold my exploration data (paltry, as usual, despite having uncomfortably close-range readings on a black hole, but such is life) I asked her about Polaris.

“Let me check,” she said. She messed about with her screens for a few moments.

“It doesn’t say why,” said finally. “It could be because of a dangerous body. It’s uninhabited, so it’s not a conflict embargo.”

“How long has it been off-limits?” I asked innocuously, prodding the floor with my boot.

“Since the mid thirty-second century, it says. About the same time the Alliance was formed. That’s probably why there’s not much information on it, as there was war pretty much everywhere.”

I thanked her and headed back to my hanger. I had another couple of errands to run – not least to pick up something for Vex. That’s why I stopped at Kamitra, as it happens – they make the finest cigars in the galaxy. Vex is partial to killing himself in style so I thought I’d pick a few up. They’re fearsomely expensive in most markets but not too bad if you buy them at source.

I bought a box and headed back to the ship, deep in thought.

The Vortigaunt leaving an Orbis



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