The Short Life and Triumphant Death of Rescue Cache J154733

Author: Lucas Ballard

YC109-Dec-15 was a remarkable day for one Small Secure Container floating in Anoikis, illustrating in just a few short hours the full lifespan of a Eve Scout Rescue Cache that was very well used.

Rescue Cache J154733 started its life being anchored by Signal Cartel pilot Rover Dog.  Just a box floating out in the black of Anoikis, waiting to be opened.

A few hours later a call came into the EvE-Scout Public channel from a pilot named <redacted> who had apparently become stranded within the system.  Signaleer and regular corporate fixture pris Naari played the role of Agent and assisted <redacted> in finding the Rescue Cache and availing himself of the equipment stored within.  <redacted> soon found his way out of Anoikis and out of danger, having used 5 Core Scanner Probes out of the 8 that had been placed there by Rover Dog.

Lucas Ballard came online from the captain’s lounge aboard Rescue Five, his brand new Enforcer Force Recon Cruiser, having received word of <redacted> predicament a short time earlier.  However he soon learned of pris Naari’s handling of the situation moments before.  So he made preparations for a long roam through the ever-changing paths through Anoikis, to begin searching for other pilots who were waiting for their chance to escape their own J-Space prisons.

Not 10 minutes later, a pilot by the name of <redacted2> reached out on the Public channel, looking for assistance.  He had become stranded in Anoikis while piloting his brand new (and freakishly expensive) Caiman, a Guristas Dreadnought.  Lucas stepped in to help, and learned that the pilot was stranded in J154733, the very system that <redacted> had just escaped from less than one hour before.  Lucas directed him to the Rescue Cache, and 15 minutes later, <redacted2> sent a terse message simply stating that he had gotten out of Anoikis.

Less than 15 minutes after that, <redacted> reached out again in the EvE-Scout Public Channel.  Grateful for the assistance he had received an hour earlier, he had decided to fly back into J154733 to return the Core Scanner Probes he had borrowed.  But upon arriving at the location of the Cache, he discovered that it was no longer there.  Someone had destroyed the container!  So Lucas sent a secure message to <redacted2>, to get more information about just what had happened, and 2 hours later, <redacted2> responded.  Shortly after getting the probes from the Rescue Cache, it turned out that he had been jumped by a Sabre pilot who tried to keep him from getting away.  However quick reflexes and some savvy flying kept <redacted2> from being pinned down by the Interdictor, and he managed to escape.  In their frustration over missing such a valuable target, the Sabre pilot and/or his friends apparently destroyed the Rescue Cache.

Thus ended the short life of Rescue Cache J154733.  But what a life it had!  The little box was a light in the darkness for not one but TWO pilots, before being destroyed less than 12 hours after having been anchored.  A short but triumphant existence to be sure.

That Small Secure Container manifested the Eve Scout Rescue motto perfectly:  Hope Comes In A Box.

Community Favorite Vote: In-Character Stories 2017

We seek the New Eden community’s help to choose a community favorite from among the 10 prize-eligible stories submitted to our recent Signal Cartel in-character writing contest.

The stories are:

 Here is the survey, which will run for a week. The story with the most votes when the poll closes will be declared the winner. In case of a tie, the judging team of Cassandra Habalu, Mynxee, and Quinn Valerii will cast votes to break ties. I will update this post after the poll concludes to announce the winner.
Enjoy the stories, and thanks for voting!

Signal Cartel 2017 In-Character Writing Contest

Editor’s Note: The list of stories and links to them are at the bottom of this post.


Signaleer Quinn Valerii organized a writing contest for Signal Cartel members recently, and finally the judging has concluded and winners have been selected. The contest was judged by Quinn, myself, and Cassandra Habalu. We were all pleased and surprised at the quality of writing and storytelling; it was very difficult to choose winners. But each judge independently assigned points on accuracy, flow, and engagement and thus arrived at the results.

Winners and prizes(copied from Quinn Valerii’s results post on our forums because I’m lazy!) are shown below. Prizes were funded by the corp and with generous donations from our members.

The results of the Freeform / Ingame Based Category are:

1st place: Lucas Ballard – “When the Sisters Call” – 1 full set of Mid-Grade Virtue scanning implants
2nd place: Tom Servonaut – “Reliquary In Three Parts” – 500 Plex
3rd place: A Dead Parrot – “Almost Lost” -Pacifier Special Edition Covert Ops frigate + 250 million ISK
4th place: Thrice Hapus – “Mobira” – 300 million ISK
5th place: Saladiin – “CONCORD SCC v. EvE-Scout Enclave” – 250 million ISK

Honorable mention – System_Baud – “Something Was Wrong” – Leopard


The results of the Lore based / Roleplaying Category are:

1st place: Tom Servonaut – “Reliquary In Three Parts” – 1 full set of Mid-Grade Virtue scanning implants
2nd place: Lucas Ballard – “When the Sisters Call” – 500 Plex
3rd place: Thrice Hapus – “Mobira” – Pacifier Special Edition Covert Ops frigate + 250 million ISK
4th place: A Dead Parrot – “Almost Lost” – 300 million ISK
Joint 5th place: Bako Cherry – “The Scholar” – 250 million ISK
System_Baud – “Something Was Wrong” – 250 million ISK

Honorable mention – Tephra Solette – “Research Developments” – Leopard


The Anokis Division prize winners:

  • Tom Servonaut – “Reliquary In Three Parts”
  • Saladiin – “CONCORD SCC v. EvE-Scout Enclave”
  • Tephra Solette – “Research Developments”

Finally the Grand prize winner who wins:

  • An Enforcer – Special Edition Recon Ship
  • A Pacifier – Special Edition Covert Ops frigate
  • 1 Large skill injector
  • 1 Pilot’s Body Resculpt Certificate

is… Lucas Ballard – “When the Sisters Call”


In addition to the prizes stated above, the authors of the 10 entries eligible for category prizes will be awarded a medal to recognize their contribution. Plus, everyone who submitted an entry will also receive a grab bag containing an assortment of items which can include: lore related items, faction modules, skins, apparel and exploration related goodies worth in excess of 150 million ISK.


Now that all entries have been posted to the Signal Cartel blog, Quinn or I will put up a poll within the next day or two for the #Tweetfleet community to vote on a community favorite. The winner of that vote will earn a further prize of 1 Billion ISK.


Each of the stories has been published as a separate blog post here and are linked below for easy exploration.

The Prize-Eligible Entries

The “Honors” Entries

We hope that you will read and enjoy these stories…we all had a lot of fun writing them! We would love to have your comments on each of the story posts or on Twitter to @Mynxee or @QuinnValerii.

Fiction: Credo’s Bounty, by Alan Mathison

“You’re really set on this?” Frank Kameny asked. “You know that you can continue to do everything you were doing before. We both know that Doc wouldn’t have any problem with you continuing the Astrographic Expedition, for example. I really think Star Tide Industries has had enough change for a while.”

“I appreciate that, Frank,” Alan Mathison responded to his old CEO. “You know this isn’t being done because I’m mad about us moving into Provi, or anything. And I know Doc would be happy to have me continue the Astrographic Expedition here, but it’s really more appropriate under Signal Cartel’s banner. There’s nothing wrong with where Star Tide is, but it’s not the corporation I joined to help build Citadels. We’ve grown, and you don’t need me for that anymore.”

The two men sat alone amidst a large cafeteria in Star Tide’s Kastoro-Stacio Citadel in the Riavayed system. Both of them held hot cups of kafo in their hands, slowly growing cold. While no announcement had been made, Kameny suspected the whole Corp knew what was going on and had decided to give these two unusual friends a bit of space.

“It’s funny as hell. A year ago I would have loved to have this conversation. I never wanted an overbearing Amarrian snob in Star Tide anyway!” Kameny said with a smile.

“And I couldn’t believe I was so desperate to work with Citadels that I’d ask a dirty, stinking Minmatar if I could join his corp,” Mathison laughed back. “And so here we are; both getting what we no longer want a year later.”

“Mynxee will take you back? You’re sure?” Kameny asked.

“Oh yea. For some reason I’ve never understood, she likes me. I wouldn’t have. Not after what I pulled at Gelhan station – asking and getting the quartermaster position and then quitting on them not 2 months later.”

Alan Mathison,” the general Citadel intercom announced, “Your frigate is now ready in Docking Bay A94. Alan Mathison, your frigate is now ready in Docking Bay A94.

“And that’s my ride,” said Mathison. He stood up and Kameny stood up with him. They looked at each other. Finally Kameny broke the silence.

“Take care you smug, overbearing, holier-than-thou Amarrian scum.”

“You too, you stinky Minmatar!”

After a moment’s pause both men moved into an embrace. “Thanks for everything, Alan. We couldn’t have built this Citadel without you!”

“Hey, Frank, you just need a break. Shit, you’ve been dealing with me for a year. That’d nearly kill anyone. Star Tide will be fine. Doc’ll be a great CEO. You’ll see.”

They released and Mathison moved to the door. Three-quarters of the way there, he stopped, paused, and turned around. “Frank,” he said, “Tell Doc – not a scratch! When he moves this little Citadel to Provi he better not put a scratch on the damn thing. I’ll come after him, Credo or no Credo.”

“I’ll tell him,” Kameny laughingly assured him.

Alan Mathison, your frigate…

“OK, OK, OK!” Mathison shouted into the air as he exited. “I hear you. God damn it! What do you think you are? My mother?”

***

Now leaving warp. Gelhan Station now on grid. Gelhan Station now on grid!” The AI system in the frigate sounded insistent and Mathison realized he’d been thinking about his leaving Star Tide Industries yesterday perhaps with too much attention. Lose attention like that in the wrong place and a capsuleer would end up waking up nowhere near where they wanted to be. That would be annoying.

Mathison punched up a recently received email:

Of course you’re welcome back, Alan! Glad to have you —
Mynxee

Mathison inwardly smiled as he took the Astero’s controls and moved to the station’s docking bay. He didn’t think he’d ever know how he made the impression on Mynxee that he’d had, but now he had to figure out how to deserve it. He was back at Gelhan station, yes, but he wasn’t intending to get back his quartermaster position. He wanted to “ease back” into Cartel life; find something sustainable. Part of him wanted to do a “Louis Wu” and just head out to the deep, alone for a while. But if that was the case, he hadn’t needed to rejoin Signal to do that. Hell, he wouldn’t have had to leave Star Tide. No, there was something else here. He just had to spend some time to recognize it.

But first let’s pay attention to docking the damn ship, he thought. Crashing into Triffton’s docking bay would be a poor way of saying ‘Hi! I’m back!’

***

Mathison let loose a packet of eight scanner probes from his Stratios-class exploratory cruiser CSS Janet A. Mattai. If Signal Cartel people were supposed to be good at anything, it was scanning, Mathison thought.

Things looked light today – just three cosmic signatures came up. Methodically, Mathison set about scanning them down. The first two turned out to be combat sites – pirates out here trying to hide out. Some people went after them. He tended not to. At least not today.

The last signature turned out to be a wormhole. That sounded interesting. Bringing the probes back into the bay, Mathison engaged the Stratios’ warp drive and moved to the wormhole 4.6 AU away.

Quickly the wormhole came off his starboard bow. It was said you could tell where a wormhole transited by its color and corona. Apparently some people were really good at it; he wasn’t one of them. For the hundredth time he peered into and around the seething hole in space. For the hundredth time Mathison reflected that he probably wasn’t good at this because this seething anomaly in space always made him more than slightly nauseous. OK, we’ll guess Gallente space, he thought. He punched the computer to get an actual analysis.

LowSec Amarr space. Wrong again! Thank you for playing! What do we have for the losers, Adrien? as the ancient holographic game show hosts used to say. Was it worth checking out? A small taste of the home that now hated him? What the hell? Mathison hit the thrusters and the Stratios-class cruiser moved toward the wormhole. His stomach tightened for the leap through and he tried not to close his eyes. That was dangerous.

He was through! The quantum cloak was holding. He checked local scanners. Ooookay, he looked to be the only one in-system. What the hell was that bright light to port? Since he apparently was alone, he broke cloak and moved the ship to the direction of the light.

Gah! Too bright! Too bright! Mathison didn’t know if he’d thought it or had actually said the words, but the computer brought down the brightness on the screen several notches to compensate. Shit! Something’s wrong! I’m in the middle of a battle, Mathison thought. Those are exploding ships – big ones! He activated the cloak again and it took hold. That meant he was at least 2500m away from anything. Good. Why had the scanner been so wrong? He’d been the only one here. According to the scanner he still was. Wait. What system was this? He punched the scanner again.

New Eden! I’m in New Eden! The New Eden system. The first system humanity had ever come to in the cluster, Mathison mused wonderingly. That bright light wasn’t an exploding ship (largely because it was still there. It hadn’t dimmed one iota). It was the Gate! The EVE Gate…blinding him from several parsecs away!

Looking back to the scan something surprised him. Mathison was reading an Astrahaus-class Citadel several AU away. And a Raitaru-class Engineering Complex. That meant they were publicly available; he could dock at them. Interesting, he thought, that usually wasn’t the case in LoSec.

He chose the Astrahaus Citadel and hit the warp drive. Within seconds it was in front of his cruiser. He waited a couple of seconds and the tether did indeed reach out and and grab the Stratios. A tether, not a missile. Good. Mathison requested docking, and got it.

Upon docking, he found a regular Astrahaus baseliner crew in place, but no other capsuleers. Grabbing a Quafe, he found the Citadel owners were currently absent, but did come around regularly. The Citadel had regular Capsuleer visitors but militarily the system had been nice and quiet. New Eden, still, was known more for tourism and research – especially by the Sisters of EVE – than Capsuleer fights.

Hmmm, thought Mathison. Could I make a base – a home – here? He’d been thinking about a wormhole. He’d been marginally involved in the wormhole campus when he was a student at EVE University, but he’d not really given wormhole living a try. One of the possibilities he’d thought of when he rejoined Signal Cartel was its Anoikis Division. You needed some “time in grade” before you were eligible, and in the meantime this could work. Hmmmm. Hell of a view, too, thought Mathison as he gazed out the window at the blazing EVE gate.

***

The base idea had worked. It was three months later, and again, Mathison was in space orbiting an Astrahaus, but this time in the Exit system. A couple of other Signaleers had even joined him in New Eden. Today, in fact, he was in a Occator Deep Space Transport meeting one of their associates to guide them into New Eden. Signal Cartel was in the middle of one of the crazy CONCORD-allowed HiSec wars that, as a whole, they basically ignored, but it did make transport a bit difficult at times. Arielle en Distel had arranged for an associate who was not affected by the war, Morgan Garsk, to move some items for her to the New Eden system.

Arrangements like this were made all the time. Using a regular courier like Red Frog tended to be almost impossible for places like New Eden, so things were done piecemeal, in small batches. Mathison himself tended to use wormholes for transport, but those were subject to the whims of Bob, of course. Usually things were quiet in the EVE Constellation since the entire constellation was one big dead-end, but it only took one bad system to ruin your whole day. And because the constellation was a dead end, it was easy to set up a gate camp if you wanted. So it tended to get either be feast or famine; easy or deadly hard.

Mathison had been moving things to Zoohen and was on his way back to New Eden. He met Garsk in the Exit system and started a small fleet with him for the way back.

Everything went well until they got to Central Point system. Mathison was in a Deep Space Transport. Garsk was in a regular Hauler. They jumped the gate into the Promised Land. One more system ‘til home!

As they jumped in-system scanners showed two aggressor ships on gate, orbiting. An Hyperion battlecruiser and a Lachesis recon cruiser. These guys weren’t messing around. There was nothing that could be done.

“Garsk,” Mathison said, “Get ready to punch the drive and run for the New Eden gate. Run and jump. Don’t wait for me.”

“What the hell are you going to do? What can you do?”

“I’m going to drop cloak and bait them. They’ll go for me, and when they target me, you’ll be able to escape.”

“That’s dumb! Your ship is worth six times more than everything in my cargo,” Garsk objected. “Yea, but I said I’d get you to New Eden safely, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” “Don’t be stupid!”

“Sorry,” Mathison said. “It’s what I’m known for. Warp! Warp now!” Mathison moved to engage the Hyperion, his quantum cloak dropping. He cut his coms. Now Garsk couldn’t argue. He hoped he could follow instructions.

Almost immediately the battleship and recon cruiser targeted Mathison. He let loose his drones knowing they’d not be enough. Through the viewer Mathison saw Garsk’s hauler dropping his cloak and aligning to the New Eden gate. It had worked! The battleship and cruiser were too busy with him. Both ships had launched drones against him, and now his ship shook with their damage. Ten drones. This wouldn’t take long. As if in agreement a small ship alarm went off. He’d lost over 80% of his shields already. His own board indicated he’d successfully targeted the enemy battleship and his drones had done 10% damage. Mathison smiled. He’d won. As he thought that, he lost the lock on the battleship. The enemy recon cruiser had been busy as well.

Something caught Mathison’s peripheral vision. He stole a look at one of the panels, this one monitoring the transponders in system. He’d seen one vanish. It was Garsk. He’d jumped into New Eden! All he could do is hope these people didn’t have friends there. If they did, there was nothing he could do. As if in agreement, another alarm went off in the cockpit; 80% of his armor was gone. Almost in hull. It was time to prepare to go. Mathison prepared to warp off when the Occator exploded around his pod. The third alarm – the hull alarm – sounded. The transport exploded and Mathison warped the pod away.

“GF” someone transmitted via the local beacon. Mathison sent a smile back. He wasn’t going to be bitter about this.

Suddenly a private conversation request from one Jonathon Rodriguez, the main attacker, came up. Mathison accepted it. “You got me!” he said, again smiling.

“Dude!” Rodriguez transmitted back. “Sorry, man! I didn’t realize you were with Signal Cartel”

“Yea.” Mathison punched up Rodriguez’s details in the CONCORD database files. “I didn’t realize you were with SUNDAR. I’ve been using your Citadel in Promised Land. Nice place!”

“Shit man,” Rodriguez said. “Give me a second.”

“That’s the issue with the heat of battle,” Mathison continued. “You just fight for your life.”

“I sent you ISK to replace your ship.”

“That’s very decent of you, Jonathan!”

“My mistake,” Rodriguez said. “I thought Signal Cartel was marked Blue to us. Give me a minute and I’ll give you blue.” A bit of time passed. “OK, you’re now on our private access list as well. You can access our Fortizar in Promised Land and the Citadels in the Access system as well. My bad. Safe flying to you. Won’t happen again from my alliance.”

“Thanks, Jonathan! Really decent of you. I appreciate it! Fight the good fight! o7!”

“o7!” Rodriguez ends. The transmission cut off and Mathison jumped into New Eden. Moving back to the Astrahaus to link back up with Garsk, he reflected on the power of the Credo. What had just happened wouldn’t have if if it had not been for the Credo and the reputation it had given Signal Cartel. It was interesting to reflect how much that had come to mean in a Cluster that seemed to thrive on virtually its antithesis.

The tether at the New Eden Astrahaus grabbed his little capsule and brought him to the docking bay. Well, I’m back, he thought.

Op Success!

Fiction: Out of Anoikis, by Mynxee

In the low light of Enclave’s observation deck, I flexed my fingers and turned my hand over, marveling at how good it felt to be back in a body after over 300 years of being instantiated within the ship’s AI network. Digital had its charms but so did flesh, blood, and bone. I was examining the new internal diagnostics that ALLISON had implemented and was considering the possibility of food when I heard footsteps.

 I turned to see A Dead Parrot approaching in the flesh (more or less; he liked his cybernetics), wearing his trademark grin.

 “You don’t look a day over 900!” I declared with a smile.

 “Likewise, Mynx! I heard you were skinning up, thought you might like some company,” he said.

 “Thanks, I…”

 ALLISON’s voice abruptly filled the room. “Ahem, Captains, pardon me for interrupting…”

 I rolled my eyes at Parrot. He looked sheepish. ALLISON could be rather possessive of him and wasn’t keen on our long, close friendship.

 “…but my probes have detected a wormhole signature and sensors suggest it is stable for the moment. I strongly recommend we check it out. If you’re not too busy.”

 Same old ALLISON, I thought with a grin, still snarky after all these centuries despite how far she had evolved.

 But…a wormhole signature after all this time! I glanced at Parrot, one eyebrow raised. In a trice, we consulted the others, got consensus, and gave ALLISON the go-ahead. Even in corporeal form, our enhanced bodies were connected to the AI networks housing our digital comrades, allowing communication at almost the speed of thought.

 There was a lot of excited chatter on the AI network as we warped. It had been fourteen standard years since a wormhole signature had been detected and that one had winked out before we could even warp to it. Most of Jove space — discovered nearly 900 years earlier with the advent of new stargate technology — had fewer wormhole signatures than other regions and those sigs tended to be shorter lived. But the section of Jove space we were currently stuck in had even fewer sigs and those that did show up tended to be even more unstable.

 “Think this will be the lucky one that gets us home?” Parrot asked, putting a companionable arm around my shoulders. I leaned against him as we watched the warp tunnel effect and shook my head.

 “That’s a big fat NOPE,” I replied. But my fingers were crossed.

 In 894 years of exploring every bit of Jovian tech looking for clues or racing for those rare wormhole sigs before they collapsed, we hadn’t been able to find a way home (whatever “home” was now, after so much time had passed). Even ALLISON’s vast AI intelligence hadn’t solved the problem, much to her annoyance. So we simply kept looking and learning, leaving beacons filled with our research data in every system we found and jumping through holes when we could. It seemed we were utterly at the mercy of Bob. The only thing that kept us sane was spending most of our time digitized in the AI network either focused on complex research that might span decades or staying dark for a time, interspersed with occasional forays into physicality.

 “Here we are! Camera drones on-screen,” announced ALLISON chirpily. The observation deck viewscreen showed an odd wormhole anomaly. Ovoid instead of round, with multiple bands of pulsing color moving in different directions, narrow at the center, wider further out.

 The lively chatter went quiet.

 “Weird,” Parrot said, voicing everyone’s thoughts.

 “Captain Obvious,” Igaze observed in a musing tone.

 “Yeah,” I muttered.

 “Are we jumping through THAT?” Thrice Hapus sounded nervous. It was comforting somehow that our advanced AI tech allowed our subsumed personalities to express emotion. Maybe that’s what kept us human, I thought.

 There was half-second of intense discussion about the likelihood of being crushed, melted, disintegrated, or otherwise obliterated by this weird looking wormhole. Then Triffton Ambraelle spoke.

 “We just completed a close-range analysis. We believe it can accommodate the ship but this being the weirdest signature we’ve ever seen, we would be jumping into who knows what. ALLISON and I suggest a recon drone. It’s quick decision time, kids, before this one disappears.” His intellect had thrived in the digital substrate and he had evolved a remarkable talent for analytical collaboration with ALLISON.

 No sense pointing out the risks of that strategy. We all knew from experience that sending even a single drone through could destabilize the hole and that we might wait a very long time before another one appeared. Even taking precious seconds to discuss the matter risked the wormhole collapsing on its own.

 “Jump,” I said, voting to roll the dice. In that nanosecond while waiting for the others to vote, I wondered if New Eden had presumed us dead and whether my personality backup had been transferred to a clone. We’d been gone for centuries, after all. Two of me would be problematic indeed if this hole put us on the path back to New Eden.

 “Seconded,” Parrot said.

 The others voted seven for, three against. ALLISON didn’t vote; she was the tiebreaker when we needed one.

 “Beacon deployed; initiating jump,” ALLISON informed us. Beacon deployment was a standard procedure. Even if we didn’t survive, maybe someone would find our research and details of what happened to us.

 Enclave approached the hole, jumped, and then things got strange. Very, very strange. Reality went shaky and distorted…stretched and twisted…turned in on itself… dissolved… condensed… flashed … and went dark. It was nothing like any other wormhole jump any of us had experienced. In those scant few seconds that felt like forever, I expected the ship and all of us to be dispersed like so much space dust.

 But miraculously, reality righted itself and we were through…into a decidedly unusual place. Veils of colored light swathed space, swaying lazily like gigantic translucent sails beset with mesmerizing ripples and slow waves. Electrical discharges lit up the colorscape in irregular flashes. A small blue star glowed less than 1 AU away.

 The ship bounced. Alarms chimed. We bounced again…as both Parrot and I stumbled to chairs and held on to avoid being flung around like ping pong balls.

 “Shit!” I exclaimed.

 “No shit!” Parrot replied.

 “Mind the Credo or I’ll pull this ship over!” chided ALLISON. Did she sound…stressed?!

 The ship bounced yet again. The view out the observation deck window showed increasingly intense electrical discharges and lightning-like fingers that appeared to be reaching for the ship. Was something deliberately bumping us? And if so, what? Before we could say a word, ALLISON cut through the chatter.

 “Captains, we are warping to a signature approximately 189 AU distant and hopefully far from this mess.” ALLISON doesn’t bother to ask our permission when the shit hits the fan.

 The comforting sight of the warp tunnel appeared and we had a few seconds to analyze the data sensors had gathered before dropping out of warp at the destination signature.

 “What … is THAT?” I muttered quietly.

 An enormous wormhole-like anomaly was surrounded by an equally enormous mechanical structures that resembled other Jovian tech we had seen. Debris fields were visible at several points where there were obvious gaps in the structure. Enormous pincer-like outriggers aligned with the tips of an oddly cross-shaped wormhole, as if they were holding it in that shape. The pitch black wormhole center displayed no movement. We had no more than a few seconds of examining the visuals when Triffton spoke.

 “Whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m detecting something coming fast toward us…it almost looks like those light veils are heading our way!” he said.

 “Can we jump, ALLISON?” I asked. “We don’t want to be here when that shows up…unless we can warp to another celestial to buy some time?” The others concurred instantaneously and unanimously.

 “Now who’s Captain Obvious? Sorry, Captain, there are no other celestials in this system besides where we just came from…” replied ALLISON. “…which is odd in itself. Here we go…don’t blame me if this doesn’t work.”

 Enclave jumped. Everything went black. For what seemed a very long time. In which I had trouble remembering who I was, where I was, why I was. It struck me that perhaps this was to be my new existence…alone in a timeless blackness forever.

 But eventually, the sense of movement, light, and time returned and the ship materialized around me. I looked at Parrot, who looked back at me, those blue eyes full of questions. I shrugged, at a loss. I realized then that the network was alive with chatter and data. ALLISON was silent.

 “ALLISON, hon, what’s the story?” Parrot said. I looked over at him quizzically, mouthing “Hon?” He shrugged, a rueful grin on his face.

 “Captains,” said ALLISON, “we appear to be in a yellow star system with several planets and…well…this…”

 The viewscreen was filled with an image of the wormhole we presumably just came through. On this side, the shape as expected…round and gently shimmering…nothing strange at all there…until ALLISON zoomed the view out. Then we could see another structure like the one that had been on the other side. Only this one wasn’t damaged.

 And then ALLISON said, “Captains, I’ve conducted a cursory scan of this system’s celestials. Two gas giants, two ice giants, and a few terrestrial planets, including two temperate worlds third and fourth from the star. I read signs of civilization and industry throughout the system. And, umm…now might be a good time to share some data from a private research project of mine.”

 “What is she talking about, Parrot?” I asked.

 “I have no idea, Mynx.” he said. “ALLISON, we’re all ears, digital and otherwise.”

 ALLISON said, “Okay. Let me first connect a few dots for you. Back when we were still in New Eden, I became curious about human origins mainly due to the fact that a fossil record for humans has yet to be found. One explanation for that is that your ancestors arrived spontaneously from somewhere else – say, through a wormhole – and the facts of their arrival were lost in the chaos of civilization’s ups and downs over many millennia.

 “If that is indeed what happened, they would have brought a lot of manufactured items with them, many made from enduring materials. Some could have survived, even after many tens of thousands of years. Possibly some of it has been found but never carbon dated for age. Or reproductions of the originals exist that aren’t nearly as old. I began to search for and collect ancient relics and artifacts through agents, planetary explorers, researchers, historians, and others. I have quite a stash of both physical items and digital records of items that were subsequently lost or destroyed. One of those things…”

 The display changed to show a drawing of a collection of symbols within a larger circle.

 “…is this. This drawing is a reproduction of a page from an ancient book discovered on some planet or another. One of my agents sent me the image. This…”

 ALLISON circled an irregular starburst symbol.

 “…is a pulsar map, as you probably realize. I have had a monitor set to ping me should we enter any system that appears to match the information in that map. And well…it pinged within seconds of jumping into this system. While the pulsars I can detect from here are not quite in the same locations as the map indicates, stellar drift could account for that. I am convinced that this ancient map is showing the location of the very system we are now in.”

 No one spoke. What were the odds that getting lost–or more properly, stranded–in Jove space for centuries and then finding our way out through two weird wormholes would bring us to this? It was almost too much to process. Everyone began to chatter at once, questioning, speculating, wondering.

 In the next moment, ALLISON cut us off with sharp “CAPTAINS! A wormhole has appeared on grid, on screen now.”

 As I turned to look at the viewscreen, I was sure she had sounded rattled. That was rare enough to be concerning. The viewscreen showed the new wormhole now on grid with us and the wormhole we had entered through. As we looked at it, a large, sleek luminous ship suddenly materialized. Parrot and I gawked, then looked at each other. My own concerns and fears were reflected in his worried eyes. I took his arm and said “Let’s park these SKINs and subsume.” He nodded but didn’t move, too mesmerized by the unexplained ship to move.

 ALLISON interrupted our thoughts, “Captains, defenses are up but…what…” – I swear she squeaked – “…we are being hailed. And scanned as well.”

 “On screen, please.” I said.

 “Already done.” ALLISON said.

 The viewscreen flashed gray and then suddenly resolved to show a face that was at once human and yet utterly alien…androgynous; hairless; pale patterned skin; delicate features; large silvery-gray eyes, a fleshy fin-like ridge running from forehead to crown adorned with a mesh of fine silver wires, and sleek external cybernetics visible behind narrow elongated ears. The being stared at us appraisingly for a several tense moments, raised one nonexistent eyebrow, and then said,

 “Fascinating.”

 Spoken in our own language! After a few stunned seconds, ALLISON replied, since the rest of us were apparently too dumbstruck to do so.

 “Greetings. This is peaceful exploration vessel Enclave, hailing from the Thera system in New Eden. We seek friendship and knowledge.”

 The being…smirked.

 “Greetings from the Talocan Empire. We have analyzed your ship’s data. Prepare to be boarded.”