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Outside of scientific texts and history books, the machines now existed mostly in legend and folklore.
According to scholars though, they had once blazed across the unknown expanses of the universe.
Set in motion long before humanity had left the cradle of Earth, their cracked carcasses now lie across hundreds of moonscape battlefields.
Buried in regolith and mystery, they technically became the first alien intelligence humanity encountered – albeit indirectly.
Moreover, they were an attestation of the potential existence of a second alien intelligence: The Metals' creators.
This brought quiet, puzzled academic query at first, and later heralded small scientific advances from acquired Metal tech and components.
As mankind moved further out into the stars, the number of discoveries increased – a trend that brought unease.
Polite puzzlement gave way to worried, even militant pursuit of Metal knowledge and technology.
Concern of what lie in wait out the inky black reaches grew palpable; the fearmongering power-hungry turned this to their advantage.
With the dissolution of a central government centuries before, there was no agency of reassurance. No one to keep the boogeyman at bay.
No one to stop the near-defenseless masses from being slaughtered by aliens... or their own kind.
Alliances, already dangerously fragile, dissolved. Skirmishes broke out, colonies burned, and millions died.
In the plus column, these “slow wars,” fought over vast distances and strained by limited resources, fizzled quickly.
Over several generations, it became clear the Metals were not Trojan horses waiting to rise and lay waste with their superior technology.
Nor were they being used to monitor from afar by masters who would come to enslave humanity.
They were merely non-functioning machines, and while they did give up some of their secrets, they remained, overall, an enigma.
In primary school, Priyanka had been fascinated by the Metals to the point of obsession.
She had begged her fathers to tell her bedtime stories, checked out all the library books she could, and even started a fan club.
On summer nights when the weather had been nice, she had slept under the stars, and dreamt of befriending behemoth cavaliers.
She collected anything and everything said to be of Metal origin she could get her hands on.
After a number of Metals had been discovered within the Common Worlds of the Zenith star cluster where she'd grown up,
Priyanka had proceeded to plead with her fathers for weeks on end to take her to see their museum-displayed remains.
In her exuberance, she had convinced herself that she could unravel their alien mystery, if only she could see them.
While childish fantasy at best, it hadn't changed her eventual gravitation toward a career as a “Metal reclamation specialist.”
Joining a "junk hunt" crew at 19, she worked her way across the galaxy, but never once met a functioning Metal.
Years in space tempered youthful exuberance, giving away to a somewhat jaded, and more practical desire to profit from her love of them.
Alien technology. A whole new lifeform. A key to a mystery. A door to a better life. The Metals were fantasy and reality in one.
The braincore, with all its thousands of years of stored information, was the most coveted – a potential trove of information.
New galaxies, technologies, potential threats, locations of long lost treasures… all locked away within.
But no one Metal braincore was completely decipherable, and some were complete gibberish.
Those that had been cracked or open to reading could provide the code to help unlock the mysteries of another.
Demand for them was high, but they were not always in the most hospitable environments.
Moreover, locating Metals that hadn't already been looted was a real task in and of itself.
Long weeks of both research and travel to the more remote wilds of the galaxy just to peek at colonist folklore was essential.
As was traipsing across poisonous landscapes in an effort to dig a braincore from its Metal coffin.
In its own way though, it was an addiction. A thrill some couldn't live without. Priyanka counted herself among them.
That meant sticking a portion of her funds back into the Alley Cat – her ship and, more importantly, her home.
Deshel and Suen had their respective abodes in separate systems, but not Priyanka, she preferred the open depths of the galaxy.
She'd be happy as a bug in a rug if she could eventually find herself a little corner of the galaxy to cozy up in.
Just settle down and pull the very fabric of space over herself.
Making that happen meant finding Il’on.