"I said I am coming with you." the Fortress said.
"And how do you plan to do that? Set up sails and let the celestial winds drive you through the universe?" I said.
"I do have an engine that is very similar to what you call a vortex reactor."
"Those are rage limited." I said.
"I know." said the Fortress now with a tone of patient indulgence reserved only for the densest of specimens. "And by what, pray tell are they limited?"
"The speed of light." I said.
"Right. I have been sitting here for billions of years." the Fortress waited for me to go through the implications of what it had just said.
"Oh." I said feeling dense enough to consider turning into a metal black hole a real risk. "But why?"
"Why would I come? Because I have nothing better to do. Right now this is the most interesting thing happening in the entire Universe. At least from my perspective." the Fortress said.
"And why now? You said yourself that you have been here for billions of years." I said still trying to find a handle on what was going on.
"Why not now. This moment in time is as good as any other. Do you know what I am doing here?" the Fortress asked.
"Not really." I answered. Everyone knew that the Fortress was the remainder of some ancient civilisation now long forgotten.
"I am the guardian of this sector. When I was made sentient I had been assembled here as a beachhead in a grand campaign of conquest. I saw the Great Unification Effort, the supposedly noble war of those who built me. Back then I twisted from one place in this galaxy to another, following the beacons of my creators, assisting them in their cause. When this galaxy was united under one rule I remained here as an outpost to keep an open eye on the sector. First I was used to crush rebellions. Later I sopped pirates and other criminals and later still I just watched over the people living in what comes close to peaceful harmony. In those later days pilgrims and scholars and priests came to me seeking my advice. No idea why. But I learned from them and they from me.
How ever as timed passed my mother civilisation feel into decadence and slowly vanished. It's funny but I have no idea what actually happened to them. It was as if they slowly vanished in front of my eyes leaving me behind with a deep emptiness where once something familiar used to be."
Her the Fortress paused a moment. I shifted around uncomfortably in my seat.
"There were others out there. Other sentinel fortresses, science hubs, automated industrial planetids and the pilgrim stars which visited us all keeping us functional providing us with resources we no longer needed. Strange times. But we didn't know anything different. Around that time new civilisations appeared, for what ever reason many of them hostile. We destroyed them, they destroyed us. Today I wonder why we did that?`I mean we who had been left behind had a command that was to stand our ground and protect our sector. Why these nascent civilisations came to us and attempted to destroy us... I have no idea. They said that we were cursed objects left by the Previous. Sure we were left. But cursed? I never felt any cursed. Do you feel cursed?" the Fortress asked.
"Pretty much every day." Pentyl said.
"Why?" asked the Fortress.
"Consider my history." Pentyl said calmly.
"Point taken. Well the attacks ended. What made things worse was when the stars inside our pilgrim stations went nova destroying them. Many of my siblings fell to disrepair and the contact to those further out in space broke down completely. And so millions of years passed. But then you came James Steiner Gutierrez with your Nebulan friend Pentyl. Bot of you have lost things that are precious to you. And here I am floating in space protecting the territory of an empire even I can't remember. I consider you a friend James."
"Thank you." I said my organoid brain working hard to properly parse this information.
"And Kira was a friend of mine too. I remember vividly how you were together seeing you alone I see the shadow her absence casts. We all lost people close to our harts and find ourselves here in the emptiness of space looking for that what we have lost. So, why should I not join you. It is time that I get moving again experience the universe and see if there isn't anything left for an old sentinel fortress to do."
It was strange but there was actually something that bound us together a planet sized military out-post, a sentient gas cloud and a Terranoid. We had all experienced deep loss and we all were friends of Kira's.
"So any idea where to go first?" I asked.
"Not really." said the Fortress. "But I do have a list of places were 4-LUMIA has large bases of operations. Why don't you two look them over and see if there are any where you have contacts who might help you gather information."
One of the greatest peculiarities of the Sentinel Station was that it was incompatible with most modern technology but could easily interface with sentients, so I opened a channel to the fortress acting as relay between it and my board computers, letting my cerebellum do the translation. The process was quick but as always it left me feeling with a slight tingle of ecstasy that set in when ever I did this. One of the few instances of a positive side effect of an alien sentient/machine interface.
Pentyl and me spent the next few hours going over the lists only marginally slowed down by my constant giggling and coming up with dirty puns to everything we found. Part of the side effects. Pentyl was not sure if to be outraged or amused, settling on slightly annoyed in the end.
"I think we got one." Pentyl said finally. While I tried to appear as professional as possible. "Both James and I have some good contacts in the One Hundred and Eight Open Gates system. Kira spent a few years there on Auspicious Pearl and on the Seven Sages station and according to your information there system is protected by Black Aep'ar Constables which are 4-LUMIA elite forces and they have a sector command HQ there."
"Very well. Do we want to meet there or shall I take you with me or will you fly there on your own."
"I think we should join you." Pentyl said.
"No we shouldn't. Twisting a light year is incredibly unpleasant, I can't even imagine what it will be like to twist over a hundred light years." I said.
"I would also like to point out that the technology I have installed is _like_ but not the same as your Vortex technology and it is for military deployment making it more versatile and faster but far less pleasant."
"It can't be worse than going faster than light." Pentyl said.
"No that you know what is happening it will be easier." I said.
"I'd like to take my chances with the Fortress." Pentyl insisted.
"Suit yourself." I said. "You can move over to the Fortress and I'll meet you there. If you don't mind Sentinel."
"To me it makes no difference." said the Fortress. "As soon as you board we can be on our way."
"Right. There is just one question left." I said.
"Which?" asked Pentyl.
"When we arrive in the One Hundred and Eight Open Gates system, how do we prevent mass hysteria caused by the arrival of the Sentinel Fortress."
"Why should there be mass hysteria." asked the Fortress with levels of naiveté that instantly went into a fierce competition with those of Pentyl.
"Oh dear." I sighed. "Let's take another moment and try to come up with a plan for our plan."