Guest on the Aeolus
On the bridge of the Venator-class Star Destroyer, Aeolus, Captain Helo Roslia sat on his command chair, overlooking a status report sent from engineering on the status of the hypermatter annihilator damaged during the Battle of the Nebula. He knew that this was the calm before the storm, the last deep breath before the plunge into unknown waters. As far as he knew, no other expedition into Neraida space had ever been attempted, with the possible exception of a rumoured joint Cognatus Empire and Bisistar Domain strike during the Dark Times. Since Voro's duel with a Dronox Commander, the massing Allied Armada had constructed makeshift repair platforms, concentrating on building their strength in preparation for their inevitable confrontation with the Neraida.
Approaching the command chair, his first officer Commander Sevine smiled at the captain's expression. "I know that look, sir."
Helo raised his brow in amusement. "I have a look?"
Sevine laughed. "It's the one you always have just before a particularly and perhaps ridiculously dangerous mission. Can't say I blame you, though I really wish Republic Command gave us the full details. After all, do we know anything about this "Ryen" guy?"
Helo shrugged. "He's a friend of Senator Apollo, or so I hear. Apparently, he fought the Congregation alongside the Krassio, so I'm inclined to give his combat skills the benefit of the doubt."
Just as Sevine was about to respond, Master Ryen emerged into the bridge of the Aeolus, his traditional Osteolan robes in stark contrast to the ultramodern uniform of the bridge crew. Indeed, to Captain Roslia's amusement, his fashion conscious navigation officer, Subcommander T'Ran gaped at the new arrival as he approached the captain's chair.
Ryen smiled pleasantly when he reached the captain. "Permission to enter the bridge, captain?"
Captain Roslia smirked. "It's customary to say that... before you enter the bridge, but I've never been a stickler for the rules. Welcome to the Neraida War, Master Ryen. I must say that I'm curious as to the nature of your mission."
"That's only natural. Suffice to say, I don't operate under the official jurisdiction of the Republic, though I represent certain interests which align exactly with yours, I'd imagine. Neraida space hides many secrets, some of which originate from the very earliest histories. I seek out an Oikoumene installation on a world not far from here, the signal of which was potent enough to be detected from my home on Aldár. As one of the most advanced vessels in the fleet, the Aeolus was chosen to lead the mission to this lost world. If Starlight favours it, the tide of our conflict will soon turn firmly in our favour."
Briefly glancing at his mysterious Messenger, Sonja, who was uncharacteristically quiet though clearly fascinated by Ryen, Helo nodded his head. "I will defer to your good judgement, master Ryen."
Master Ryen bowed his head slightly, before turning his gaze briefly toward where Sonja stood. To Helo's shock, she winked at the mysterious Master, who returned the gesture and laughed heartily before turning back to his quarters. Just as Helo was about to inquire how Ryen could see Sonja, Commander Sevine spoke. "He's an odd one, isn't he?"
With cloaking device engaged, the Aeolus dropped out of hyperspace in orbit over a desolate world over ten light years from the Allied rallying point.
"Report, Subcommander T'Ran," the captain said, scrutinising the planet on the viewscreen closely. "Commander Sevine, conduct a level six scan of the planet's surface. Let me know if you detect anything Oikoumene in origin."
Without lifting her head from her console, T'Ran reported that she could detect no Neraida vessels in the system, while Commander Sevine informed him that the planet's atmosphere was preventing any conclusive scan of the surface of the world. Frowning, Roslia turned to Master Ryen. "It may be too risky, Master Ryen."
Ryen stared at the planet for several moments. "Nothing is gained if nothing is ventured, captain," he remarked cheerfully. "I'll take a shuttle to the surface of the planet. Something is down there, I'm sure of it."
"I can't let you go down there by yourself, it's far too dangerous."
Ryen chuckled. "Then by all means, come with me, m'boy! It'll be a grand old time!"
Captain Roslia considered Ryen's words. It was certainly a while since his last away mission and while he loved nothing more than commanding the Aeolus, sometimes it was best to get off the starship and onto dry land. Nodding to Ryen, Helo turned to Commander Sevine, placing her in command of the Aeolus while he travelled down to the planet's surface. Taking a shuttle down towards the surface, they could see the region was heavily forested, which made it difficult to get a good look at the surface itself. However, the Oikoumene signal was coming from down there, implying perhais an underground installation.
As Ryen and Roslia landed and looked for the Oikoumene source, however, it did not take long for them to realize the region was actually barren of anything of interest. It was then, however, that energy shots were fired through the thick bushes, forcing them to take cover as Conqrix troops appeared, led by none other than Sakhmet, the assimilated Corthrinus. "You have fallen for our trap. Prepare for annihilation."
"Well done, though you have made a critical error. We will not be annihilated easily", Ryen said, using his powers to deflect the energy shots back from where they came, resulting in many Conqrix being taken down. Sakhmet's arm shifted in form and took the shape of a blade as he charged at the Osteola master, aiming to strike him down in melee. "Engaging anti-supernatural tactics."
Using his own energy blade, Ryen fought back against Sakhmet while Captain Roslia used his blaster rifle to take out the remaining Conqrix still in the area. The Corthrinus's strikes were powerful and furious, making it clear for the Aldárae Master that this was no normal drone - it was a High Drone, perhaps not as great as Aedanius but clearly more powerful than the others.
Once finding an opening, Ryen struck Sakhmet, piercing through the cyborg's body with his blade before using his powers to blast him away, sending the drone flying and crashing against a tree with enough strength to break it down. At the same time, Helo fired the last shots to take down the final Dronox drone, who fell dead. Sakhmet struggled in place for several moments in an attempt to rise to his feet, though he clearly found himself unable to; "Critical system failure", he could be heard saying as he then deactivated.
"An unusual drone, certainly one of the most powerful we've encountered. I recommend, captain, that we bring him to the Aeolus. We could learn vital information by scanning his databanks. Perhaps the Oikoumene signal I detected was not a ruse, after all."
Agreeing with Ryen's proposal, Captain Roslia dragged Sakhmet's corpse onto the shuttle before lifting off and setting a course for the Aeolus. When they arrived, they quickly moved the corpse to sickbay, where Doctor Jena Faustus scanned the cyborg body closely. After an hour of intensive scans, the Doctor finally turned to face Ryen and Helo. "Fascinating, simply fascinating. It appears that this signal of yours originates from one of the oldest Nagith worlds in their records, first colonised by the Nagith Empire in the distant past. This cyborg fellow was attempting to lead you astray."
Ryen nodded knowingly. "Captain, I know I have asked too much of you already, but we simply must travel to this Nagith world."
"I'll clear it with Fleet Admiral Cretacea. Lets hope we don't encounter anymore surprises."
The Girithron Sphere
The Aeolus dropped out of hyperspace two hours later, in the midst of a dense energy cloud. Commander Sevine noted that judging for their travels thus far in Neraida space, the high concentration of spatial disturbances and FTL-disrupting nebulae indicated that a large scale industrial disaster occured in the distant past. The Ortella commander theorised that such a disaster may explain the lack of hyperspace routes into the Unknown Regions, which remained unexplored for countless millennia. Before he could reply to his first officer, Captain Roslia's attention became fixated on a vast structure, measuring over 2 AU in diameter near the edge of the system. "Analysis. Is that this... Nagith world?"
Sevine interacted with her console, before looking up at the captain in astonishment. "I'm detecting materials which match those discovered on the Nagith world discovered by the Republic Remnant during the Dark Times, but the structure itself... sir, it's an Oikoumene construct! Strange, why wouldn't the Neraida attempt to assimilate such an installation, given their interest in Amemoriam?"
Rising from his command chair, Helo approached the holo-table, which displayed a holographic image of the vast construct, with a red beacon indicating where Sakhmet's signal had originated from. Master Ryen scratched his chin in thought. "Fascinating. This construct would explain the Oikoumene presence I felt."
"Perhaps the structure itself has defensive capabilities which deterred the Neraida from establishing a presence here. Given the events on Amemoriam, it's not outside the realm of possibility", the captain remarked, clearly fascinated by the discovery.
Commander Sevine nodded as she continued overlooking the displays at her science station. "I'm detecting vast quantities of exotic particles being produced by the sphere, creating something analogous to hypermatter fog. I have no records of any such process occuring at any other known Oikoumene installation."
A closer analysis of the sphere revealed a large gateway-like structure into the interior, though the particles emitted by the sphere prevented a short-range hyperspatial jump into the interior. Nevertheless, despite the dangers of such a structure deep within Neraida territory, Captain Roslia felt compelled to continue Ryen's mission and investigate the mysterious signal seemingly emanating from the inside of the structure. Leaving Sevine in command of the bridge, Roslia and Ryen travelled to the ventral hangar bay, where they entered a shuttle and made their way at sublight speed toward the gateway.
Seemingly large enough for a small moon to pass within the sphere, the gateway passage showed clear signs of Oikoumene workmanship, clearly hybridised with the far cruder technologies of the ancient Nagith Empire. Even from a visual analysis, it was clear that the Nagith had attempted to make this sphere their own. After almost an hour travelling within the gateway passage, the shuttle emerged into the vast interior, the distant light of the sphere's artificial star bathing the sphere in blue light. Gazing from the window of the shuttlecraft, Captain Roslia noticed the presence of vast landmasses and oceans, though many showed signs of damage from whatever industrial accident had consumed this region of space millennia ago.
Taking control of the shuttle, Roslia directed it toward the origin point of the signal, on the coast of one of the smaller continents closest to the gateway. When the shuttle was set down, both Ryen and Captain Roslia emerged, gazing in wonder at the technological marvel all around them—of which the horizon was the most notable. While dyson spheres had been constructed by the races of the Core in the past, all paled in comparison to this Oikoumene construct.
Suddenly, Ryen's voice snapped Helo from his reverie. "That structure ahead, captain. The signal is emanating from it. Judging from the design, it's Nagith in origin. Note the dilapidation and lack of finesse. We must be cautious. The Nagith were not known to be fond of unwelcome visitors."
As Ryen and Helo entered the structure, there was some relief in that, by the looks of things, all defenses were long disabled, likely damaged thousands of years in the past as it was evident had entered this place in a very long time. They found themselves discovering a small chamber, and at the far end of the wall rested a large stasis pod - perhaps most importantly, a still functional one. As they approached it, Ryen and Roslia could see it was, in fact, currently in use by a creature of some description.
It looked vaguely like the races of Capricyránae, though it was not one they could recognize. It was evidently filled with cybernetic enhancements, though its body was too intact to be an assimilated Neraida drone.
Helo scanned the being. "Fascinating, though I'm unfamilar with the species. Ryen?"
"A Nagith of the Late Era of their history. The cybernetics are sophisticated and less apparent as those found on Neraida drones, but I can still detect similarities. This fellow was likely one of the last of his kind before the Neraida rose up."
Captain Roslia ran his talons through his feathers. "I was under the impression that the Nagith were a combination of many different species, not a single race."
Ryen smiled, "So I believed, though perhaps our new friend here can illuminate the topic for us."
"You want to wake him? With all due respect, Master Ryen, that would be in violation of at least a dozen naval protocols."
Ryen laughed and placed a hand on Helo's shoulder. "My dear captain, this chap here is precisely why I have travelled to Neraida space. The information he may hold could prove invaluable to the war effort and as you are no doubt aware, I am not bound my Republic naval rules."
Contemplating the old Master's words, Helo moved as to approach the pod's terminal and open it. After tampering with its alien controls for a few moments, the pod slowly opened, releasing a cold mist from its interior and revealing the full body of the Nagith, whose eyes slowly opened. The precursor begun to groan as he rose, glancing at Helo and Ryen in silence before he begun to speak. "... Libertus. Osteola. Not the Children... Has the Republic come to capture me? Finish me off?"
Ryen lifted his hands in a gesture of calm. "We mean you no harm, my friend. This may be difficult for you to process, but your war is over and has been for over thirteen millennia."
The Nagith stared at Ryen in silence for some moments, taking some time to grasp as what he had said, though he did not appear especially surprised. "So, our Empire has crumbled then. As expected, following the rebellion of the Children."
Captain Roslia titled his head. "The Children?"
"What you call "Neraida" was known in our time as our Children", the Nagith continued. "They were our creation, made to be our servants. Our successors. But they evolved beyond their original programming, and rebelled. Our people and the others who accepted our rule found ourselves slowly decimated and consumed by them. Between fighting them and fighting the Republic, our Empire was fated to fall."
Master Ryen approached the Nagith with some trepidation. Even thirteen thousand years after the fall of their Empire, their name still invoked fear across the galaxy. "We serve the New Republic and we fight against your Children. They have become a plague which threatens the universe. I believe that it was destiny that I detected your signal from Aldár and so I now ask, will you fight against those whom your kind created?"
The Nagith watched Ryen before replying. "A "New" Republic? That implies the Republic I once fought is no more. During my time of service, I would react to such news with some joy. But now, I have no reason to feel anything but apathy. You fight a lost war, for the Children cannot be defeated. They have surpassed the Nagith."
The Nagith begun to pace around the chamber. "During my time in this pod, I have been partially aware of what has happened in this region of space. You are not the first to try to exterminate the Children. The aliens of Cyranai hunted them down to mere three individuals, yet they rebuilt. Recently, they attacked again with the aid of others, striking at their core, and they thought them defeated. Yet the Children rebuilt. They always rebuild."
Captain Roslia sighed before continuing, "We cannot give into hopelessness. Our Republic is one of resolve and courage, we will not stand idly by while a plague of cybernetic monsters rampages through peaceful space in some sick path toward 'perfection'. We will continue to fight, no matter the odds. And we will prevail."
The captain's words caused the Nagith to become contemplative. "I will have to check just how advanced this "New" Republic is. The Children imprisoned me in this pod, for reasons I cannot truly fathom. A trophy, perhaps, or maybe a guinea pig for their experiments. Regardless, I could tell the passage of time happening around me... just not that so much time had passed. From this pod, I witnessed aliens of all sizes and shapes fighting the Children. And... I have also witnessed an entity of terrible power, entering the Children's domain and taking one of them away. I still do not understand that."
Ryen nodded knowingly, as though he was aware of which being the Nagith spoke of. Nevertheless, he did not press the issue. "Tell me, do you have a name?"
"I am named Vanikaimar. I am the last voice of the Nagith. With my people gone, I have nothing more to lose. You truly wish to try and defeat the Children? They periodically visited this place, and I have learned the location of their new Core from them. I will fight by your side, and if you are as capable as you say... the Children will remember to fear the name of their Fathers."
Ryen bowed his head. "It would be an honour to fight alongside you, my friend. I sense however, that you are not the only secret this sphere hides."
Vanikaimar nodded. "There are more spheres like this scattered across this region of space. I doubt any more of them hold any living Nagith, but they may be of use to you. Now, we must depart this place.