The crew exit transit near the Terminal. It seems things are going well.
With the new trade coming from the Confederation and improved funding from fresh investments, the Terminal appears to be experiencing a growth cycle.
Two gargantuan frames are being constructed in the space around the Terminal.
Soon, the crew are hailed and cleared for landing at their usual docking bay.
As the crew exits the ship Nelari meets them personally. Strangely he is accompanied by a pair of bodyguards.
"Greetings, welcome back to the new center of the universe!" he says as he approaches.
"Much has happened in the month or so that you departed." Nelari begins.
"After you provided the information on how to discover the Reptoids, the Vigilants and Oryx developed handheld scanners to replicate the signal. Soon after, people just vanished, then bodies were discovered." He grimaces a bit, "nasty business that. Glad we're on the other side of it now."
"I'm sure you noticed the small projects under construction outside. In cooperation with the Confederacy, Oryx and the Vigilants have devised a way to bypass the nebula's speed barrier. With the proper application of financial incentives, hyper gate research jumped to the forefront as a contender. For the initial phase they developed small gates that allowed personnel to pass through. Once that prooved the model they decided to scale up to system gates for starships to travel between the Confederacy and the Terminal. " Nelari shrugs and continues, "The personnel gates are still in operation but are reserved for official traffic only. The system gates are months away from even the testing phase."
"You, my friends, are still the only ship capable of traversing the nebula beyond conventional speeds." he finishes with a grin.
"Enough catching up, to business. I understand you managed to retrieve all the materials on the Combine's list. For a fee I can facilitate the purification and repackaging for delivery."
After a brief negotiation, the fees are settled and Nelari initiates the offloading and transport of the raw materials to appropriate refining facilities.
The crew meet with the Administrator and Commander filling them in on what they've discovered while traveling outside the sector. The Administrator advises the crew that, even with the Reptoids exposed, operations are still recovering, and production has been down. While the alliance with the Confederacy has bolstered the Terminals defense capabilities and obviously improved the supply chain for raw materials there are definitely still forces in motion in the sector.
As the crew returns to the hangar Kallie'Dar is approached by a courier-bot. After verifying her identity, the drone presents an encrypted data chip.
The crew retires to their ship to investigate the new development. Kallie'Dar inserts the chip into her datapad. After another identity verification and a quick stroll down memory lane she decrypts the data. Pushing it to the main view screen the crew are presented with the schematics of a Drow starship.
The provided schematics indicate it is a cruiser-class starship with several advanced systems and complete research suites for projects too valuable to be handled in terrestrial or orbital research facilities. The ship is listed with a compliment of one hundred personnel, a mix of Gallion house guard and research staff. It appears to be an experimental research warship commissioned off the books by House Gallion before it was liquidated. The records indicate it was christened the Hesperus.
Among the data is a brief message from Kallie'Dar's brother indicating that this is the only asset that was not recorded as captured or destroyed. He surmises that the ship is still quietly operating within the Pact Worlds, likely somewhere in the Diaspora. The ships unique capabilities and compliment would likely explain its absence from asset lists.
At the bottom of his message are lines from a classic Drow nursery rhyme with no other context. Also listed are several communication frequencies with notations based on planetary alignments and solar measurements within the Pact Worlds. Zopa determines the notations are longhand for dates and times. Bosho and Drax suggest that the nursery rhymes might be a countersign passphrase of some sort frequently used by military units.
What I imagine Drow nursery rhymes would be like: Nemesis by HP Lovecradt
The crew decide to try and reach the phantom ship. Strig sets course for the Pact Worlds, Diaspora asteroid belt. Exiting transit, they begin broadcasting on the designated frequency. A few moments later their passive sensors pick up starfighters moving toward their location. Initial readings indicate snub fighters with varying configurations. Likely pirates of some sort. As the ships enter visual range, they are obviously not standard pirate snub fighters. Their ship identifies them as Dominion Heavy 'Skull' Fighters.
The crew engage the five craft. The fighters scatter making harder targets as they weave in and out of the surrounding asteroids. Strig begins his own defensive maneuvers while Zopa manages the shields. Glack, Bosho and Drax each man a turret or torpedo launcher and begin grinding away at the surprisingly well shielded ships. Kallie'Dar coordinates orders from the command seat keeping everyone focused. The fighters return fire shredding through shields and nearly reaching armor. Two fighters down, shields near failing and the crew starting to plot an exit strategy, a massive black ship materializes in the field of battle and begins firing on the fighters. Under the focused barrage from such a large ship the last fighters are eliminated.
A female voice comes across the com channel, "I am Captain Amuru of the Warship Hesperus, we received your message."