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The Librarian Conspiracy

_Somewhere between Mannon and Colonia, alongside the Highway.
_Orca-class transport ship "Lavigny". 7

From time to time Kestrel looked at the astronavigation panel on the side of his room aboard the Lavigny. It displayed the amount of jumps left before Colonia in bright orange numbers. It was currently at 158. It kept going down as weeks passed, but not fast enough for him. It was never fast enough for him. Kestrel was accustomed to the Bubble, and the ships used to ferry the investigators of the Imperial Flight Regulations Bureau around in the Bubble were fast enough so that very few stars were but a dozen jumps away. But Colonia was a different story. For some unfathomable reason the Bureau hadn't assigned to him one of their "one-jump wonders" capable of travelling thousands of lightyears in a few hours, but a much slower luxury Orca. It annoyed Kestrel to no end. He was stuck in the middle of the imperial hiearchy : not low-ranked enough to travel in a stripped Diamondback, but not high-ranked enough to have an actual say in how he was to be transported.

Kestrel kept going over the files of his ongoing inquiry on his PDA, over and over again.
It really was a bad file. Not particularly difficult, he thought - it was just about tracking down a ship all the way to Colonia - but strange. And he didn't like weirdness. He was an investigator of the Flight Regulations Bureau, not some kind of explorer looking for random planets in the void. He dealt in numbers : shipping manifests, ship IDs, financial data, jump range data, star coordinates. It was simple. Straightforwards. But this case right here...

It had started with cacti. Bloody goddamn cacti. Cacti found aboard a half-derelict ship floating somewhere in a small system on the edge of Imperial space, pretty happy inside their space greenhouse. Nothing particular, really - people using old ships (in this case a T9) as small space stations wasn't exactly anything new. It was almost as old as space exploration. Sure, those cacti were a bit weird, their DNA had been a bit altered, but really, succulents in space weren't exactly the kind of thing that was to draw the attention of the Flight Regulations Bureau. Except of course when the cacti were incorporating DNA that came directly from Achernar's enclosed imperial gardens, data that wasn't supposed to ever leave the system. Except when the rest of the investigation - whose entire point was to ensure Lavigny's plants remained unique - uncovered a much wider issue.

There was something out there, something the Flight Regulations Bureau was trying to grasp without really managing to do so. A...Kestrel had trouble finding the right words for it. A network of some sort. Normal individuals leaving a double life. Ships with slighty modified cargo manifests with just enough room left for a few dozen kilograms of the gods knew what. Discreet light exploration ships leaving human space for the middle of nowhere, suspicious cargo on board. The remnants of small stations orbiting random red dwarfs, periodically jumping away to avoid detection. Encrypted Galnet communications leading to supposedly long-dead forums of a bygone age. A long investigation in Achenar, finally leading to a ghost - a librarian, dead since at least five good centuries. And then there was that last trail - a cargo ship departing for Colonia, something hidden aboard.

And there was nothing else. All of this mess hadn't risen to the top of the Empire because it was strangely innocuous. There was no traces of spying. Nothing that linked these people - whoever they were - to the Alliance of the Federation, or to one of the factions vying for power inside the Empire. They weren't criminals, they weren't spies, they weren't anything. They were just...there. Ferrying their weird, still unidentified cargo from secluded place to secluded place.

The only tangible element Kestrel had was a strange object he had found in one of their empty, cold stations.

A book.

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