Those words kept racing through Jason Bright's head, tumbling alongside the rest of his body as the turbulence pressed him against his seat. Around him, more of his followers were similarly struggling against the unfamiliar sensation, feeling the immense strain of gravity trying to force them backwards.
And yet, despite the physical forces pressing against his body, he couldn't help but feel a sense of relief and joy at his current circumstances.
The Great Journey was finally underway.
Years of failures, sacrifices, setbacks, and worse…
All of them had been worthwhile.
Yes, there had been unfortunate decisions to be made. Leaving Chris Haversam behind, however well-intentioned the reasoning was, had not been an easy choice to make. There were also the countless members of his flock they had lost along the way, unfairly taken before the Journey could even be attempted.
But they had triumphed, despite the pain and hardships they had struggled through.
Glancing out the nearest window, Jason saw the two other rockets flying nearby, appearing as vivid orange streaks breaking through the thin atmosphere. It had been a nerve-wracking experience to lift-off, seeing the other vessels careening through the sky, but they'd managed to correct their courses at the last moment.
They were finally on their way. Free from the wastelands, from discrimination, from hardship…
The rockets continued to accelerate, swiftly moving through the thin outer layers of Earth's thin upper atmosphere. The entire planet was visible, colored in swathes of brown, white, blue, and a few small patches of green.
It was beautiful, observing the pure presence and life of the planet on a scale seen by so few. It was terrible, witnessing the horrible scars from the Great War, still left over after centuries of change.
As the hours went by, the Earth slowly began to shrink from view, quickly followed by the pockmarked surface of the moon. The view from the window slowly zoomed further and further out, with the pale blue dot of Earth gradually fading amongst a background of stars.
Months passed by, with other planets appearing into view and fading in what felt like a matter of moments. The otherworldly rust-red surface of Mars, the majestic rings of Saturn, the frozen hellscape of Neptune…
And finally, after countless moments of sailing through the solar system, their ultimate destination was finally in sight.
It was a secret that Jason Bright had hidden from all but the most devoted, loyal followers of the Bright Brotherhood. Even that courier, who had been the key to ensuring the Great Journey would be successful, had never been told the truth.
But as the vast, incomprehensible alien structure slowly came into view, it was impossible to hide his plan any longer.
Jason had been planning the Great Journey for years before discovering the structure, hoping that some of the old moon bases would still be serviceable. However, those plans had all changed the day he had tried to scavenge from that old observatory. When he had looked through the telescope and observed the incomprehensible object, lying just within the orbit of that distant planet…
Well, why stay so close to Earth when the Journey could bring them so much further?
The alien structure loomed proudly ahead, surrounded by massive chunks of shattered ice and debris, as if it had broken out of some immense casing long ago. Two extensive, sleek protrusions stretched off at one end of the structure, connecting around a larger, circular core. Several smaller rings floated freely in the center of the core, unconnected from the rest of the structure yet completely still.
It was even more magnificent than Earth had been.
The ships approached cautiously, afraid to disturb whatever may have been onboard the device. Nothing happened, even as they began to move closer towards the end of the structure.
It was only when one of them had approached the circular rings at the core of the structure that the alien device activated. Lights flashed across the length of it, illuminating both it and the Brotherhood's ships. The two rings at the center rapidly began to spin, causing a powerful, intense blue light at the center to appear and sending arcs of lightning to spark between the two protrusions.
Jason looked on with a sense of awe, observing as one of the ships was dragged towards the light. It continued to accelerate, moving faster and faster and faster until it finally vanished, vanishing into the distance faster than his eyes could track. Grinning wildly, he started to pilot his own spaceship towards the alien structure's core.
The Great Journey can finally, truly begin! He thought, as the vast forces of the alien device dragged his flock into the stars.
"And you're positive that these are the only vessels to make it through?" Captain Arvus asked, feeling a fresh migraine begin to spring up.
"Yes, sir. We've been trying to hail them, but we're only picking up a few scattered radio signals. Nothing we can make out from here." His second-in-command stated, looking over the new reports on his omni-tool with a critical eye. "Stranger still, we aren't picking up any eezo readings at all! Instead, all we're seeing is lethal levels of radiation coming off of those ships!"
Arvus sighed, resisting the urge to slam his head into his command console. He'd rushed his ship into position as soon as they'd gotten word of a previously dormant Relay activating, sending out warnings to whatever Hierarchy vessels were nearby for assistance. The crew of the Eternal Vigil had been spreading rumors ever since the new orders had gone out, worrying about some fresh horror making its way through the Relay network.
And now, after all that stress and trouble, they'd found three conical, rusted pieces of scrap metal that could only vaguely be considered space worthy.
Arvus could almost hear the universe laughing at him, the victim of yet another cosmic joke.
He shook his head, trying to get his thoughts back on track. Regardless of how primitive the ships were, they were still an unknown entity that had made their way through an unused Relay. By the Citadel's laws, these new arrivals had already given him more than enough reasons to open fire…
But then he'd have to fill out more paperwork. Worse still, he'd still likely end up getting yelled at for 'overly aggressive conduct', 'bloodthirsty behavior', 'destroying unknown technology', and similarly annoying things by those same Citadel bureaucrats.
Spirits, I hate my job.
"Prepare some drones and a boarding team. Dangerous or not, we still need to figure out what's on those ships, and who sent them." Arvus decided. Best case scenario, they'd make friendly first contact with a new species and only have a few cases of mild radiation sickness to deal with.
Worst case scenario, the unknown ships had no shields, armor, or weapons to speak of. The Vigil may not have been the best frigate in the Hierarchy's fleets, but it may as well have been the Destiny Ascension compared to these new 'ships'.
Besides, Arvus mused, it's not like they can be as horrifying as the Rachni were.
"Boarding team, give us a sitrep. Have you made it inside the vessel yet?"
"Negative, we're still trying to cut through the airlock." Tanivia replied. "It should be ready to open any second now."
"Affirmative. Remember, let us know as soon as you have visual contact with whatever's inside. Vigil, out."
"Like we could forget." She grumbled, checking over her rifle one last time. Around her, the rest of the squad was performing similar last-minute checks with varying degrees of resignation.
The history books had always made first contact seem like such an exciting event back during the history classes. Hearing about the Hierarchy's legendary initial meetings with the Asari and the Salarians back during the Rachni Wars had always been a favorite topic of Tanivia's, back when she was a child.
Having to sit in vacuum while magnetized to an unknown, highly-irradiated ship when her own vessel was prepared to open fire at the slightest alert definitely made those old stories seem less exciting, in retrospect.
On the plus side, they'd given breaching duty over to Caepius instead of her this time. It probably wasn't the best thought to have, considering the amount of risk Caepius had been put in, but it was still a little comforting. She'd seen enough horror holovids and fought against enough pirates to know that the first person through the door was rarely the one who survived.
"Alright, I've cut through the airlock!" Caepius suddenly called out, bringing Tanivia out of her thoughts. "Everyone, form up!"
Gingerly, the squad slowly got into position around the rusted metal doorway. As soon as the last soldier had made it, Caepius began tugging against the door. As soon as the dim interior of the ship was revealed, Tanivia snapped her rifle up, seeing movement inside.
"Contacts inside!" Tanivia shouted, turning on her flashlight.
Immediately, several inhabitants were brought into view, throwing up their arms to ward off the sudden light. The materials of their suits were bizarre, shaped out of a vivid red material that covered most of their bodies. The ends of their appendages were covered in what appeared to be grey gloves and boots, although it was difficult to tell.
"Unknowns don't appear to be armed," Tanivia began, slowly moving inside after Caepius. "They're bipedal, and…"
Any other thoughts she may have had died as soon as she caught a glimpse at the alien's head.
Their skulls were completely rotting, leaving holes and exposed bone open for her to witness. Uneven, pocked flesh hung loosely from their hairless bodies, as sunken, clouding eyes stared back wildly at her. Some didn't even have flesh in some areas, leaving only thin, ugly tendons lying over their mouths or necks.
Moments later, the squad's comms were filled with panicked screams.