"Ask it to identify itself, Suen."
Deshel interrupted, "Are you kidding? Anyone on the other end is going to tell us exactly what we want to hear."
Priyanka shot back, "And what answer would that be, Deshel? Tell me." She cocked her head. "Who knows why we're here except us?"
Until this moment, she had doubted any one on this backwater planet knew of Il'on's existence, or of the Alley Cat's true intention here.
Registered to supply the several small cities scattered across the planet, they'd been able to get permission to stay several weeks.
It had been a simple task to get "legal" and should have raised zero suspicion. So why the hell was everyone so jittery all the sudden?
Was Deshel hiding something? Or Suen, perhaps?
The job itself and her information on Il'on had come from a source she trusted implicitly.
She looked at Suen whose hand hovered over her console, paused in doubt.
"We came here looking for a Metal. We've found it…" Priyanka paused, unsure of how to continue.
"It found us," Deshel cut in.
She challenged them. "Shouldn't matter. Even if that's the case… Even if it's a functioning Metal. A job's a job."
The bridge remained still.
"I don't know what the hell you want me to tell you. I shouldn't have to convince you to finish. You're getting paid."
Suen gave a disdainful look before averting her eyes and nodding slightly. Priyanka turned to Deshel expecting the same.
He took a deep breath, struggling to meet her eyes. "Pree… I…"
Priyanka cut him off.
"Suen, tighten beam your holodar for a while. Make slow sweeps. Let me know the moment any of the locals take a piss behind a bush."
"Deshel, scan for communications and data packages."
Deshel asked, "What if the transmission isn't meant for us? What if it's meant for someone else?"
Priyanka rubbed her temples. "Give me the coordinates our caller gave you, Suen."
Suen replied, "85 degrees west, about 300-odd meters."
"That's pretty close. We weren't too far off," Priyanka said, noting their accuracy.
"Pree, please!" Urgency filled Deshel's plea. "Will you just listen to me? Just for a moment. Before we go digging anything up?"
The scornful, tired look on Priyanka's face told Deshel she was listening. His fingers rushed over his console.
Once again, noise broke out across the tight confines of the bridge, leaping across aural tones and harmonics.
Earsplitting squeals, verbal snatches, white noise, and frequency modulations wrestled, mixed, and then became a continuous throaty croak.
It sputtered on for several moments before becoming something almost human…
"Come... I am here. Worship me and I shall bestow upon thee, power and protection. Come, and my fall shall be redeemed..."
It was breathless, one word flowing into the next in a ceaseless sermon, alternating between near-weeping tones and "righteous" anger.
"What insanity is this?" Priyanka muttered.
Suen's mouth hung open in shock.
The language was Galactic Standard, yet alien in tone. It switched several more times in as many moments. Voices, noise, nothing...
"You recorded it?" Suen was visibly upset.
Deshel craned his neck to see her, "If that's the Metal… If that's–" He thrust his chin at her console, "whatever's pinging us, yes."
A look of concern on her face, Priyanka touched Suen's arm. Suen shook it off violently and glared at Deshel.
Unconcerned, Deshel continued, "The machine broadcasts every 109 hours, give or take.
"The time it takes for an orbital satellite to reach a position above us, and receive a relay." Deshel pointed out.
Priyanka was almost afraid to ask. "A relay of what?"