+++BEGIN LOG – CMDR SOUVARINE ABOARD SSF VORTIGAUNT – 07.11.3301+++
I think something terrible may happen. I’ll start from the beginning.
After my last log I made a fourteen-minute recording of the UA’s ‘song’. Hearing that played back through the speakers in the cockpit was unnerving, let me tell you. I then took a deep breath, opened the cargo hatch and angled the ship to scoop the artifact.
As soon as I got the UA inside the hold the walls of the cargo bay started taking radiation damage. These things were toxic – I needed to be quick. I plotted a course for Merope and went to make my first jump. At that moment I noticed something strange: the cargo computer had tagged the UA as ‘illegal’. Well, that puts paid to any hopes of selling it, I thought. I engaged the hyperdrive.
Damn – this thing was corroding more than just the cargo bay. Without really thinking about it, I shut the blast doors to the gunner’s deck, where the cat was asleep.
I made the journey as quickly as I could. Within an hour, I was shot out of hyperspace and into the coroshere of the giant blue-white star.
Science time. I ejected the swiftly-decaying object into space, then watched as it slowly angled itself so that the bulbous end pointed straight to the centre of Merope. Or, perhaps, so that the ‘canister’ end pointed directly away from it. Just as the Canonn had found in their research. I wondered about taking it further out into the system to see if it responded to any of the other celestial bodies, but decided that, as the Vortigaunt was taking radiation damage, the need to get this thing somewhere useful was more pressing. I plotted a course for Nganji, the system where the independent researchers led by Ishmael Palin were based. I punched the command to charge the hyperdrive and sat back.
After eight jumps I stopped to refuel. As the Vortigaunt’s cavernous intake vents scooped hydrogen from the M-class star we were orbiting, I opened Galnet to see if there had been any updates.
Nothing on the research. But, there was another story about mysterious power outages. That’s strange, I thought. It had been a recurring story for a couple of weeks – strange system failures in seemingly unrelated stations across human space. Bond Hub was the latest, in the Varati system.
“Fuel scooping complete.”
Right – time to go. I angled the ship away from the star and charged the hyperdrive for the next jump. Just as it was about to engage, however, I noticed another strong signal source on the local sensors. Could be anything, I reasoned. Still…
I powered down the frame shift drive and cruised to the signal source. When I was within a kilometre, a familiar warning popped up on my heads-up-display.
“Ship scan detected.” Goosebumps instantly covered my body.
There, floating in a cloud of blueish sparks, was another.
Over the next several hours, I found four more. Tens of thousands, the report from the Canonn Interstellar Research Group said… This isn’t an artifact, it’s an infestation.
What to do? I didn’t want to bring them into the ship without somewhere to take them, as to scoop them seems to trigger the radioactive decay. The obvious answer was to take them to Ishmael Palin at Christian Dock, but I’d be attacked by station security before I got close – his lab has already been attacked this week. They’d be on high alert. And the ‘illegal’ tag on these things guarantees that I’d light up on any scan like a damn Christmas tree.
Illegal… At that moment, a nascent thought flitted through my mind. I pulled up Galnet again, and opened the archives. I looked for more stories like the one about the power failures at Bond Hub.
The next was a story from the 29th October. This time it was Weyn Dock in 64 Arietis. Another one, from the 28th – Gurragchaa Gateway, in the Warkushanui system. Then Gaiman Dock in 49 Arietis. Then Coats Hub in Warkushanui. All had mysterious system failures throughout the station that didn’t seem linked to generator capacity, or any other physical cause.
UAs have already been tagged as illegal. So no station security will let you within two kilometres of a station with one in your hold – and you sure as hell can’t get rid of it once you’re inside. Unless…
The spark of an idea grew. I feverishly opened my map database and began punching in the systems mentioned in the articles, one by one. I was looking for…
… Black market. Check. If any station in known space has a developed black market, it’s listed in my database. A relic of the old days maybe – but still occasionally useful.
I checked the others. Weyn Dock – check. Gurragchaa Gateway – check. Check, check, check.
Every station that had experienced failures had a functioning black market. All of them. These regulatory oversights are the only way to offload items tagged as ‘illegal’ – and so the only way to get a UA into a station. I clearly wasn’t the first person wanting to take home a ‘souvenir’. And – the Varati system was the home of the Canonn Interstellar Research Group, whose main goal was to investigate UAs. Hundreds could have been sold there.
If this theory is true, it means a lot more than simply solving the riddle of the power outages. My mind reeled with visions of stations all along the frontier of human space, lights off, incapacitated and helpless. Sitting ducks, if you like.
I need to get back.
+++END LOG – CMDR SOUVARINE ABOARD SSF VORTIGAUNT – 07.11.3301+++