CHAPTER SEVEN

The Arrival

The bridge had become a hive of activity as the Demetrius neared the end of its journey.

"Jump Complete. Next jump in thirty minutes," Sharon didn't bother speaking into the loudspeakers. Everyone but Kara was here, and that wasn't necessarily unwelcome by the crew. They all found her extremely off-putting.

"This is just an observation mission," Karl reminded the small group of pilots around him. They weren't actually needed to jump the ship, but this was were all the action was. "Remember that. We're just seeing if Earth is here, taking a few scans and pretty pictures for the President then jumping back. Got that?"

"Yes sir!" The chorus of replies came back. None of them knew what they were going to be facing, but they were all dressed in their flight suits, helmets in hand. They were ready at a moments notice for trouble. Before the final jump, they would wait in their ships in case what Kara had told the leaders of the fleet was the truth.

"Good." Karl nodded. There was a knot of tension that had settled in his stomach and it had decided that it wanted to make a home. The next hour was going to change human history for all time. "Get to your ships. We're jumping in thirty."

The pilots saluted Karl before filing out of the bridge, leaving Karl and Sharon alone.

"This is it." Sharon spoke only after she was sure all the pilots were out of hearing range. "I'm not feeling too optimistic about this whole mission."

Karl nodded in agreement but didn't bother to say anything.

As the pilots jogged through the hallways, they secured their helmets as they neared the airlock. Going EVA to get to the vipers was not fun, and none of them particularly enjoyed it, but it had to be done so they did it grimly and with scowls on their faces.

They all jumped in surprise when they heard a surprised shout over the comm lines. Turning, their eyes all widened in fear.

"Pilots, what's your status?" Karl asked through one of the radios. He got nothing but silence in return. "Hardball, do you copy? What's your status?"

Silence.

Sharon and Karl shared a worried glance. "I'm going to go see what's happening." Karl turned to leave but stopped when he found Kara blocking the way.

"Your pilots are alive, Agathon," Kara stalked into the room, keeping both Agathon's in sight. "I'm taking the ship."

"What? Are you insane?!" Karl shouted at Kara. Was this woman out of her mind? They were doing what she wanted, why would she need to take the ship? "We're helping you, Kara!"

"No." She shook her head, and with a clench of her fists she was wreathed in what seemed to be blue shimmering flame. "You're not." With a toss of her hand, the blue flame surrounded both Agathon's trapping them in place. "I'm not going to hurt you, but I need the ship."

Kara was in no hurry as she glided forward, rendering first Sharon then Karl unconscious. She tied them up with zip-ties that she had managed to find, laying them next to each other on the other side of the room.

"You are doing the right thing, Kara," Liara spoke softly to Kara. She stood on the other side of the navigation table, a grim smile on her face. "They can't get in the way of what needs to happen."

Kara nodded at Liara, unsure of how she was actually there, but it didn't really matter in her mind. Any chance of being with her lover, even if it was imaginary, was welcome.

The moment that the FTL drive read as ready, Kara made the final jump.

#

The call that heralded the change of the world came at three in the morning. The message was extremely brief, simply: "Code Black, Agent Osborne."

That was how Matthew Osborne found himself kissing his wife and children goodbye for what may be the last time in months. He climbed into his black Ford LTD Crown Victoria and he was quickly on his way towards Peterson Airforce Base. His thoughts raced, and his speedometer reflected his hurried thoughts as it quickly climbed higher than legal. Code Black had never been issued once in the entire forty year history of the Agency. Its meaning had been drilled into all agents to ensure that all would instantly recognize its importance.

Confirmed non-terrestrial contact, intentions unknown. All Agents to return to base immediately. The United States of America is now at Defcon One.

It took Matthew no more than thirty minutes to reach Peterson. The guards quickly ushered him through the moment they saw his badge, a line of other Agents beginning to form behind him. The badge of an Agent was an infamous thing around the base. The Agents had clearances higher than most of the highest in the military, and they knew all the secrets that came along with that clearance. The airmen on the base found them a generally friendly bunch (which they found oddly amusing for a top-secret black project), but no one knew what exactly they did or where exactly they went to go do their work on the base. Somehow, the Agency had managed to keep all mentions from the public eye. That had led to rumors on the base, ranging from "government hit-squad" to "Government payrolled Warlocks protecting the United States from the Dark Lord Sauron."

All of the Agents got a chuckle from that one, and the unofficial title of the Agency quickly became W.A.S. (Warlocks Against Sauron) after that one began circulating.

Pulling into the closest parking space, Matthew took off running. He darted through the halls of the main building, ignoring the surprised cry of whoever was unlucky enough to up at three in the morning.

The Agency, for all the people that knew of its Agents, was one of the best kept secrets in the United States of America. Careful, cautious planning had ensured that no one not a part of the Agency ever actually knew the truth about its existence and purpose. The Director of the Agency had gone to such lengths that he orchestrated the construction of Norad to divert attention from the building of the Agency's headquarters, a mile underneath Peterson Airforce Base. It had been difficult, but no one was the wiser.

Entering a door locked by a simple key, Michael walked past empty office after empty office. This part of the base was restricted from all other personnel, but it was little more than a red herring. They kept the illusion of office space incase something ever happened.

Which it wouldn't. No one knew of their existence after all.

Stopping, Michael opened a janitor's closet, pushing brooms aside to get to the wall behind. Memory guided his fingers as he pressed a hidden button, which silently opened a hidden keypad beyond the bottles of window cleaners. He quickly jabbed his code into the keypad shut the door to the janitor's closet behind him. The moment that the door closed, the wall in front of him slid open on oiled hinges, revealing a small square room, pristine and painted white.

In the middle of the room, painted directly on the center of the floor, was a small blue box, no wider than one square foot.

Without any hesitation, Michael stood in the blue box, waiting patiently.

The room lit up as scanners covered every inch of Michael, checking innumerable measurable figures. After several moments, a green light illuminated inside of the wall, giving him the all clear. A door slid open in the wall, revealing a modestly sized elevator. The moment he was inside, it dropped, speeding down as fast as possible. It stopped with a sudden jerk.

Michael practically broke through the door leading into the Agencies actual operations center. While the decoy outside had been filled with what most people would expect from an intelligence agency, the actual Agency operations center was like something out of a science fiction novel.

The operations center of the Agency was a hive of activity. Computers fifteen years ahead of their time were on every desk, and massive televisions embedded in the walls surrounding the Floor gave real time information on ever single activity that the Agency was involved in. Hundreds of people on the Floor ran back and forth, all having conversations with at least a half dozen other people. The din was hard to hear over, but Michael payed it no mind.

Michael jogged up a flight of stairs to the Nest, a large office that hung suspended over the Floor. Floor to ceiling windows gave a birds eye view of everything happening below. Four other Agents sat in chairs in front of the Director's desk, and taking a seat in the only empty chair, Michael watched Director Leonard Vance as he talked hurriedly into his phone.

"Victor, there isn't anything that we are trying to hide!" Vance rubbed the bridge of his nose, ignoring the Agents sitting before him. His face grew cold as he stood up, his voice arctic. "Don't give me that bullshit, Chebrikov! This is not our doing! Call me back when you're willing to talk without shouting!"

Slamming the phone down, Vance took a moment to cool down, taking a deep swig of coffee before slumping down into his leather office chair. A minute passed and the Agents all waited quietly for Vance to speak.

"You all got the message." It wasn't a question. They wouldn't be here if they hadn't. "It has been confirmed. Our satellites have picked it up, the Soviet's have picked it up, and it won't be long before its coming out of every radio on the planet."

Michael and the other Agents all glanced at each other, none of them knowing what Vance was actually saying.

Vance pursed his lips at their confusion. "Right..." Typing on his computer, he turned his speakers on. "We first received this signal an hour ago. We've managed to trace it to the outer edge of the Solar System, and its getting closer. It should pass Uranus any minute now." With a sharp press of a button, a recording started to play.

Static crackled from the speakers, "-mandy. Does anyone copy. I repeat, this is Commander Shepard. Alliance Command, does anyone read? This is Commander Shepard, captain of the Normandy. Admiral Hackett? Does anyone copy? I repeat-"

Michael slumped back into his seat with shock. "Is this a hoax, sir?"

Vance shook his head, draining his coffee. " 'Fraid not. This is the genuine, definite article." He stretched out the 'u' in genuine, giving it a bit of twang. "Things are about to change people, and there's no way to tell in what ways."

"What are we going to tell the President?" One of the other Agents asked. "Are we going to inform him?"

Vance nodded. "We need to be the first to tell him. We still have some time before the other agencies even begin to hear anything. Wilson, you're on that. A plane is waiting. You'll be briefed on everything that we know on the flight. Get moving."

Agent Wilson nodded, leaving the room. The rest of the Agents kept watching Vance.

"We need to get a return message to whoever it is up there! We need to do it yesterday, people! Get moving!" Vance motioned for them to get out of the Nest. "Move it like we're at war!"

#

The USS Carl Vinson was one of the most powerful ships in the ocean, on the cutting edge of technology. Rear Admiral David Simpson stood on the bridge, a cup of coffee in his hands as he watched his battle group cruise along. David couldn't help but feel a shiver of pride. He controlled one of the most powerful weapons on the planet.

It certainly was empowering.

"Sir."

The voice of Captain Samuel Hanson broke David out of his thoughts. Turning, he found the younger man standing behind him, his face pale. "Hanson? Are you alright? You look ill."

"Sir," Captain Hanson ignored the Rear Admiral's concern. "President Reagan is asking for you."

"Did he give any reason why?" David couldn't help but feel confused. The Carl Vinson's Battle Group was preforming routine maneuvers. To be called away from training would only be done under an extreme situation. To have the President of the United States calling was not an everyday occurrence, and it could only be for several reasons, none of them particularly appealing.

"No. He's waiting on the line." Captain Hanson gestured at the red phone at the back of the bridge.

Handing his now empty coffee cup to the Captain, David walked over to the Captain's chair. He took a seat, picking up the phone. "Mr. President, sir?"

"Admiral Simpson."

David sat back at the sound of President Reagan's voice. "Yes, Mr. President?"

"Admiral Simpson, your battle group is being placed in wartime status. You are to take up position at Chesapeake Bay and join with the Dwight D. Eisenhower in protecting Washington."

"Sir?" David was glad he was sitting. "Are we at war."

Reagan was silent for a moment. "I pray to God that we are not. You should to. Await further instructions upon arrival." The line went dead.

Numb, David hung the red phone back in its receiver. He slumped back in the chair, staring out the windows. He ignored the stares of the crew around him.

Silence had fallen on the bridge.

"Sir? What are our orders?" Captain Hanson asked quietly.

David sat still for several more moments. He didn't know what, how, or why, but the world was about to change. Two Carrier battle-groups defending Washington could mean nothing else.

Finding his strength, David stood, feeling the weight of his years. "Give me the fleet."

One of the officers quickly connected him to the fleet.

Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, David picked up the nearest radio. "This is Rear-Admiral David Simpson onboard the USS Carl Vinson." He paused, looking at the faces of the young people all around him. "Orders have come in from the very top, the highest authority. Our President has ordered us to return home. We are to lay anchor at Chesapeake bay and prepare for the worst. I urge all of you now to make peace with your God. The world is going to be a very different place, and I wish you all the best of luck."

He hung the radio up with a heavy heart.

"Plot a course home, Captain," David ordered before he turned and left the bridge.

#

Charlie Lawson was not an amazing man, nor was he actually that remarkable. He held down a steady job, had a loving wife, two kids, and a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. Charlie was happy with his life. He worshipped at the local Baptist church every sunday, and if there was no reason for doing something, he just simply didn't do it.

That's why it came as a surprise to him, and millions of other men and women across the globe, as the nightly news came on.

"America threatened!" The stately voice of Tom Brokaw played over the TV of many American households. "Aircraft Carriers patrolling outside Washington. All active duty soldiers being recalled for duty. The National Guard is mobilizing."

Charlie sat stunned, the sound of his wife screaming at the kids just a buzz of background noise to him. "Darling, come take a look at this!"

"This morning," Tom Brokaw continued, footage from a helicopter playing onscreen. Two massive aircraft carriers lay anchored at the mouth of Chesapeake bay, their battle groups slowly patrolling around them, the folks of Maryland got a rude awakening, the sound of F-18 fighter jets flying the skies above.

Charlie watched, completely entranced at the images coming across the screen. Fort Bragg was bustling with activity, as if preparing for an invasion. Fortifications were being erected and artillery was placed. The White House was no different. It seemed that every single inch of space was filled by a soldier armed to the teeth with the deadliest weapons available.

"The images you are seeing are worrying. Are we at war?" Tom Brokaw spoke over the video playing. "The White House has declined to answer, but we are receiving reports that similar situations are occurring around the globe. The Soviet Union is digging in deep, preparing for-"

The video cut back to the studio, and Charlie watched as Tom Brokaw stared off camera at someone who was whispering urgently to him. The reporter looked shaken.

"I-ah... We have just received a transmission that appears to be the source to all of this activity." Never before had the reporter seemed so frazzled. "We have confirmed that the signal is originating from just past Mars. We are going to play the transmission for you now."

The signal to TV flickered for a moment before a shaky video appeared. A dim, rusty room filled with what looked like televisions glowed in the background. In the center of the screen, huddled over the camera, stood a woman, no older than Charlie's own wife but considerably better looking. Her blonde hair was tangled and she looked like she hadn't slept for several days.

"If anybody is reading this, my name is Commander Kara Shepard with the Systems Alliance." Her voice was a surprise coming out of the speakers. She sounded exhausted, but there was an undercurrent of strength. This was a woman you didn't want to cross. "If there are any survivors hearing this, please respond. I should be in orbit above Earth in another five hours. Where is the Relay? What happened to the Citadel?" She took a breath, wiping sweat from her brow. "I need to get in touch with Admiral Hackett, or whoever the hell is in charge of Alliance command. I'll try sending this message again in thirty minutes."

The video broke to static, and quickly the signal switched back to the NBC studios. Tom sat in his chair, slack-jawed, before subtle coughing off-camera seemed to pull him back to reality.

"I-" He looked off camera again, nodding after a moment. "We will be back shortly."

The signal ended abruptly, leaving nothing but static on the TV.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

#

AN:

HA! I bet none of you were expecting that!

Seriously though, things are about to get wild. All I can say is "Hold onto your butts."