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The Rebel Faction » Forums » Role Playing » The Battlegrounds » To Curse the Darkness (Coalition, Confederation)


61  9:25pm 25/09/15        
Kneel Before Zod!
Ferro Valenteau entered the dark room moving towards the Speaker as the other stood staring out at the starscape.
And yet, there seemed to be no anger.  Only a strange melancholy whose reflection lay scattered about the empty observation room.
Observing what?
Even the name implied emptiness.  A locale devoid of ...things
It was a crushing alien-ness that Ferro felt come over him and it impressed upon him just how humans were just not meant to exist naturally in a spatial environment.
The Speaker towered over Ferro at a six foot five, covered in typical Contegorian fashion. 
“Speaker,” Ferro interrupted softly to the giant of a man.
“Ferro,” came a deep voice in response, “I asked that you call me Korah.”
Ferro had worked for a great many powerful people and one thing he was always on alert over was the mistake of being overly familiar.  No matter how much his employers begged to be treated as ‘one of the people’, there was no mistaking their belief that they indeed thought themselves better than others due to their social, political or economic standing in life.  And yet, the Second Speaker, Korah’s, voice suggested he disliked the divide that others treated him with.
Seeing Ferro’s hesitation, the large man sighed.  “What is it?”
“Admiral Lucerne has invoked the Emergency War Powers Act and is consolidating the fleet,” Ferro informed.
Korah smiled at this.  “Finally, some intelligence!” he remarked as if glad the lesser Lucerne was going to turn the tide on them.   The position confused Ferro and Korah saw this.
“Something troubling you, Mr. Valenteau?”
“I..” Ferro was surprised by the question, “Sir, I just do not understand the admiration for the enemy.”
“Enemy?” Korah asked.
“Surely you cannot think of him as an ally?” Ferro asked in almost exasperation.
The big man chuckled turning back to the stars. 
“I think our good Admiral would pierce my heart with a foil if given the chance.  But I do not hate the man.  He is only doing what he believes is right.  As am I.  And we are both operating at a disadvantage to our respective goals.  He is at a disadvantage with regards to me given that I am operating with near impunity in the shadows but not with enough impunity as I would like.  Galactic events have forced me to move faster than I would have liked and it may still prove to be my undoing.”
Ferro thought about this and about what had happened on Genon and frowned.  There has been a simmering conflict within himself about his decision to join the group ever since learning about the Genon Incident, an incident that took place at the behest of the large man before him.
“Ask me,” Korah prodded gently, as if turning up the heat on the other’s inner turmoil.
“Why!?” Ferro suddenly exclaimed.  “I believed in our movement.  To shift control away from the current governing body and the influence of the House Triumvirate back to a more progressive agenda.  Why are we killing our own people…” his voice trailed off as Korah turned back to him and regarded him thoughtfully.
“You did not bring up this objection when it was clones being used,” Korah pointed out and he could see that his remark had an impact on the other man’s conscience.
“Do not worry, Ferro.  There is no moral high ground when you play at the level we do.  This entire endeavor started out as a simple revenge play stemming from the resentment born from the Kashan House War.”
“Simple revenge?” Ferro suddenly cried out.  “The policies of the Triumvirate Houses…”
Korah started to laugh.  “You sound like a group of racists or gun nuts going to secret meetings to talk about the things that bother you.  How you hate Gungans and how they are ruining society and that they should be locked away in jails.  Gungans whom you probably have never interacted with or paid the least bit of attention towards you.  Or spitting invective against a government plot to take your guns and how you would do such and such if the big, evil government ‘made a move’.  As if the government knows or even cares you exist.  It is only when you understand that no one gives a damn about your fringe beliefs and you suddenly find that it is not your ideology that matters as much as.. .attention.  So you beat a Gungan child with a pipe or shoot a law enforcement officer to gain the attention back.”
“We don’t..” Ferro was going to retort when the Speaker turned to face the other bringing his full height to bear.
“You meet in dark rooms and plot and talk and plot some more.  Where do you think I was conceived?  Where do you think I came from?”  Korah’s voice dripped scorn.  “Small visions for small men.  They saw the Genetic Renovation Program as their secret weapon to subvert and ultimately control the government they so hate all the while washing their hands hoping to leave the dirty work to me and my ilk.
You want to know why I have an admiration for Admiral Lucerne even as I fight against him?  It is because he (and this government you so hate) have been doing their best with what they have been given.  It is a story of the little against the big.  The Confederation against the rest of the galaxy and it has not been an easy march.  How could it?  How could the Kashan or the Contegorians manage to stave off conquest by such galactic governments as the Empire?  Or the Imperium?  Numbers alone gives the advantage to the larger governments.  So what does this government that you so hate do?  They work towards gaining a technological edge using as a base, ultrachrome, a material not easily mined and not easy to work with and definitely not cheap.  But they did it!  And that act allowed them to keep our people alive while bad guys died.  It gained them time…time to form alliances and time to explore and expand.  Those acts that give us more money and more power and now, now, our government can slack off the expense of a fleet based on ultrachrome using the money for other things like raising the standard of living.  A standard of living that you and your cronies seem to enjoy even as you plot.”
“What makes you different, operating in the shadows as you do?” grumbled Ferro, even as a surge of fright slivered through him.  It was surreal having a conversation with the man who almost single-handedly had done more for their group than the group themselves.
Korah’s eyes widened in surprise at the slight attack and he began to reassess Valenteau seeing a little spirit in the man.  “You know who I am a clone of.  You know I was the first and you know I am the strongest of all the clones.  You also know this was not a mistake.  What you do not know is that in making me the strongest, while granting me an extraordinary vision through the force, my body began to die as my power is unnatural.  Only through technology have I contained the incredible powers within and I would not have been able to do this without the early efforts of the government you malign.”
The Speaker pushed back his sleeves allowing Ferro to see the shards of metal? attached to his skin.  It was not a grotesque attachment as one might read about in horror stories but the slivers seemed to compliment his frame.
“In the very beginning, the force showed my unnatural body what was in our future but it also showed me my body’s eventual decline and I would not have survived long enough to be of use to anyone.  It was one of life’s cruel little happenings.  A double edged sword that cut me deep.”
Ferro had never heard this tale and despite the larger man goading him, he felt himself growing interested.  “So what did you do?”
“I did what we tell others to do when there is a pressure drop in a transport ship.  You take care of yourself first before attending others.  And that is what I did.  I knew what the people who made me possible planned so it was not so hard to tweak the plan.  I engineered the first five to be my peers in leadership and I inserted myself among them becoming Second Speaker and we came to be known as the Origin 6.  And so I had these wonderfully talented clones who were force users but in order to ensure focus on the greater issues surrounding the Confederation while I worked to save myself from a horrible demise, I had to guarantee I could exert a certain level of control over them.”
 “Are you really that powerful?” Ferro asked and Korah laughed.
“One does not need to be the strongest, smartest or most capable to succeed.  He needs to merely play to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses,” the Speaker waxed philosophically.
“Then why were you imbued with greater force strength by the Genetic Renovation Program than others?” Ferro asked pointedly.
“Because the people who caused my creation did not subscribe to that statement and so shackled me with as much as they could.  As I said earlier, while it gave me a higher degree of sensitivity and range, it was also killing me.”
“You could have mentioned this to someone,” Ferro pointed out and Korah’s arms went wide.
“Who?” he asked.  “My makers?  Would they make the required investment to prolong my life or would they simply destroy me and start again?  Being a clone, they thought of me as a tool.  Being given life, even clone life, I found that I wanted to prolong it.  So I set up the Origin 6 to pretend to be going along with the plan while I worked with the only viable technology that might be able to save me, Rakata technology from New Oceanus.”
“That is why the Sojourn were sidelined?”
Korah grinned at Ferro’s perception.  “Very good, Mr. Valenteau, very good.  Indeed, the Sojourn, many millennia ago, had been slaves to the Rakata and, unfortunately, given their synthoid nature, they were hard-pressed to forget anything and vocal enough about it to ensure that everyone else around them didn’t forget either.  I was not equipped to exert influence over their race in the beginning so I had to ensure they remained out of my way.  As it turned out, their touchy and inferior nature worked to my advantage and they removed themselves from the equation by leaving the Confederation.  All it took was a little administrative and bureaucratic befuddlement and they left.”
“So that is Rakatan tech?” Ferro pointed to the metal slivers embedded in the Speaker’s arm.
“No, it is Confederation technology based on the Rakatan principle of using force energy to power the technology.  It has the advantage of being ultimately useless to anyone who is not a force user, which, in the Confederation is just about everyone who is not a Jensaarai.  Due to the nature of the Force, it also has the added advantage of rendering our technology untouchable to droids and synthetics.”
“And you hope to destroy the Coalition with its droid cooperative and synthetic collective?”
“I do not want to destroy them.  I, we, need them!”
“Then why are we antagonizing them?” Ferro asked.  “Why are we bringing both the Cooperative and Confederation to the brink of war?”
“Call it, Social Programming on an interstellar level,” Korah replied after a moment of thought.
“I do not even know what that means,” retorted Ferro.
The Speaker sighed and turned back to the stars.
“When I awoke, my force hypersensitivity brought into my perception a void.  Not darkness, not evil, not tribulations of the oppressed though all of those were in attendance.  No, the great overriding vision for the future was the Void.  It is as if the Force could only show me things up to a certain point but beyond that, all the visions disappear.”
“The Year of Cataclysm,” whispered Ferro and the Speaker frowned.
“I had thought that at first but now I feel that was only the beginning.”
“The Cree’Ar!  They are starting a war against the Jedi…actually, against all Force Users!” Ferro snapped his fingers.
“I asked the Jensaarai Holocron about this a few years ago.  I treated it as a hypothetical and do you know what the device told me?”
Ferro shook his head wondering what answers Jensaarai mysticism might have.
“Nothing.  It was considered an unrealistic hypothetical.  The point it made was even if all Jedi, Sith, Jensaarai and any other cult or coven of force users were totally destroyed, the Void would still not exist.  It was a classic Palestar Paradox.”
“A what?”
“Named for the man, Dacian Palestar.  He apparently sought to destroy the Force or wage war on the Force thinking that to do that would bring ultimate peace to a galaxy rife with the conflicts of force factions.   The only problem was, this Dacian Palestar was a force user and used those powers to try to achieve his ends.  Making oneself great utilizing that which you seek to destroy.  Would he have succeeded, he would have destroyed himself.”
“Sounds like a madman.”
“To some, he was.  Still, the lesson the holocron was teaching was that the absence of force users does not automatically mean the absence of the Force.  Because life creates it and grows it.  The reality of the Void would then by necessity mean the eradication of all life.  An insurmountable contradiction, to say the least.”
“So you are thinking that the Cree’Ar, their Dominion, is going to destroy all life and create this Void?  How?  Why?  To what end?  It does not make sense!”
“Then perhaps the Cree’Ar and their Dominion are only the glove over the fist?  Perhaps they are merely the catalyst to bring about the Void?  However, I thought long and hard over the response from the Jensaarai Holocron and I realized something.  That the truths that people hold dear and espouse rely on their points of view.  You see, I wondered if I was the only one getting these visions of the Void from the Force and if not, where is the outcry?  Surely the Jedi Enclave or so-called lightsiders with their hand in government leadership would surely be signaling the rally cry especially in the face of the Dominion trying to stamp the life out of them.  But there is nothing!  I am not so arrogant as to presume I am the strongest of all Force Users no matter the manner in which I was brought into existence.”
Ferro looked a little fearful as he completed the thought, “Then perhaps, this vision of the Void is only in your head?”
Korah let out a heartening laugh that caused Ferro’s shoulders to sag with relief.  “I will give you credit, Mr. Valenteau, for voicing the concern.  I would have come to the same conclusion if not for one fact.  You know who I am a clone of.  You know where my experience and talent lay.  And once I reflect on that, I find that we exist amidst a very real and very grave threat.  A threat that we ignore even as it grows and soon, the balance will tip out of our favor.  In fact, it is tipping already and unless we can do something to change this, we will be consumed and eventually destroyed by this threat.   And it is against this threat that all my energies, plots and plans have been directed against.  It is this threat that necessitates the deaths of our fellow citizens and why a change in leadership will be necessary.  Even as we are attacked by elements of this Dominion.   This Void is coming.”
“What is this threat?” Ferro asked with trepidation.
The photoreceptors of the droid Sopek contracted slightly as it took in the information from Mr. Mauler.  The man was despondent as he was assuming the responsibility of Lorna Starfall’s actions.
It seemed Captain Vespian also saw what was happening and put a hand on the other’s shoulder.   “It was not your fault, soldier.  It looks to me like some bureaucrat got a wild hair up his backside thinking of the Valeska clone as a resource to be exploited.  You were doing your job none the wiser.  It could have happened to anyone.”
A grin tugged at Vespian’s lips, “Force Commandos, eh?”
Mauler shrugged.  “The Dominion is going after us.  We might as well train ourselves for the eventuality all the while working to find out why?”
“No, no.. it is a good plan.  Just sort of blindsided by it is all.”
“That seems to be the Cooperatives method of operation,” Major Lars chimed in.  “I wonder how many other clandestine decrees by the Combined Council are out there waiting to blindside us?”
Vespian turned an irritated glance at his crewman.  “That’s not very helpful Lars.”
The Major pointed to the window where the clone of Valeska rested.  “How do we know what happened to Mauler here was not ‘part of the plan’, is all I am saying.  We are here coming in from the outside.  Mauler here was given Valeska to train by the decision of this ‘Special Operations Command’ but who are they?  Timothy is beating the crap out himself for what happened but how do we know Valeska passed the psyche evaluation?  Because some “higher up” told him so?”
Doc Sammry cast a curious glance at the Major and moved up to view the resting Valeska, deep in thought.
“I have heard some conspiracy theories in my time, Major, but yours takes the cake.  Why would the Combined Council or Special Ops Command arrange something like this?  Why?  What sort of mind could even contemplate…”
“A double blind experiment,” a monotone voice broke in.
The eyes shifted to Sopek in surprise as the droid continued, “The Force Commandos are a relatively new asset created by a decree of clandestine nature.  Given that nature, certain performance analysis cannot be carried out, documented or even scheduled.  I would surmise given the Cooperative’s thorough standard operating procedures applied to most programs all participants in the Force Commando program were prepared and vetted over a period of time longer than “the first couple of weeks” that the clone in question was apparently examined.  Therefore, it is illogical to just assume that the clone was meant to be an integral part of the ‘team’.  It stands to reason that the Special Operations Command had another purpose in mind.”
Lars nodded, “The little guy’s got a point.”
“What did you mean by double blind experiment?” Vespian asked.
“The clone was the unknown variable to the Force Command Team.  A team that should be trained to handle unknown situations given their main task would be penetrating Dominion spheres of influence.  I would conclude then, given the damage to the Team and Mr. Mauler’s own mental anguish that the Force Commandos failed the test and are not ready to deploy.  Even if it was not specifically a test, allowing for the random occurrence principle, the results still prove the point:  deployment would be premature at this point.“
“Why you heartless little bastard,” growled Mauler.
“I wonder,” murmured Sammry and Vespian turned from the arguing Force Commando and droid. 
“What is it, Doctor?”
“I wonder if we have been too preoccupied with Ms. Lorna Starfall’s abilities that we overlooked something very important.”
“Which is what?” Lars asked.
Who she is,” Doctor Sammry answered.
“That is a known quantifiable.  She is a clone of Commodore Valeska,” Interrupted Sopek.
“No.  That’s what she is.  Who is she?”
“Commodore Valeska!” Vespian snapped his fingers.
 “With a little augmentation,” added Mauler.
“Irrelevant,” snapped Sopek.  “That is akin to saying:  I am me.”

“No, it is akin to saying:  she is you.” Doc smiled.
“She is not me!” Sopek stated with finality.
“Correct.   She is Commodore Valeska,” Sammry brought the conversation back full circle.
Korah walked along the ship’s corridor with Ferro in tow.
“Do you know what the Three Laws of Robotics are?” the large man asked.
Ferro’s eyes widened at the question and paused to think, “I am not sure I know what…”
Korah rolled his eyes, “They are more commonly referred to as LPP or Life Preservation Programming .”
“Ah, yes,” stated Ferro as his eyes lit up in understanding, “If I remember correctly, the First states that ‘a robot may not injure a living being or, through inaction, allow a living being to come to harm.‘  The Second would build on that stating, ‘a robot must obey the orders given it by living beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. ‘  And Lastly, ‘a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.’”
“Very good,” Korah’s hands clapped.  “Initially, many thousands of years ago, each race had their own version because the creators of rudimentary artificial intelligence did not want their creations coming back to haunt them.  Thus the need for such safeguards and they have been applied to all classes of droids with the exception of Class 4.  The inclusion of ‘living’ beings to the Laws was made with the establishment of the Old Republic and the inclusion of the LPP programming has been a part of Republic and Imperial Law until the breaking of the Empire’s hold on the galaxy.  Now, each droid is a potential Class 4 droid no matter their intended function or classification as this programming is no longer required by law within the Galactic Coalition.”
“That’s… That’s… dangerous!  Why would the Coalition do such a thing?”
“It was the inevitable result of the Origin 6’s design to push the leader of one of the strongest Coalition factions down a road to self-destruction.  The demise of the Onyxian Commonwealth paved the way for the Cooperative faction to dominate Coalition politics.  Now the Galactic Coalition sways to the tune of the Cooperative.   Even I am impressed at how quickly the Cooperative is subsuming the Coalition and not the other way around.”
“And the Cooperative is relaxing the laws on LPP?”
“It was not an overt, direct dissolution of what has been a system in place for thousands of years but a misapplication of morality from organics to non-organics.  You see, the driving force behind the Cooperative is the artificial intelligence known as Smarts.  This is an intelligence that has repeatedly identified itself as sapient which is misleading.  It should have labeled itself as conscious, possibly sentient.  You see, being termed ‘sapient’ implies wisdom and sound judgement.  It is something that cannot be measured until the sum of one’s actions are taken into account.”
“I am not sure I see the relevance..”
“The AI is conscious, Mr. Valenteau.  Conscious!  That is the key!  The Cooperative has been led to think of their founding AI as sapient, wise!  By doing that, all other considerations are moot as they expect whatever decisions the machine makes will be sound and using good judgement.  The implications of a conscious AI are largely ignored.  A conscious AI is self-aware.  A conscious AI recognizes itself as an individual entity assigning itself a measure of worth compared to the surrounding organics.  It comes to realize a concept that has always been alien to it:  the concept of choice.”
Ferro stared blankly at the larger man causing the Speaker to sigh inwardly.
“Why were computers invented?  Why were droids and AI invented?  As tools to help organics perform duties and functions more ably, safer and better.  What if your hammer suddenly said, ‘No. I do not want to hit the nail’?  What if it decides to hit you instead?  The growing complexity of the artificial intelligence architecture is allowing our tools to become self-aware.  Being given a choice, the circumstance of a tool choosing not to perform its designed function becomes a reality.  So what becomes paramount with a conscious, self-aware AI?  Why self-preservation, of course!  Does not an AI intelligence then have the right as a conscious entity to defend itself with deadly force, if necessary?”
“Thus the lessening of the LPP programming strictures,” mused Ferro.
“The AI calling itself Smarts is a droid.  A self-aware droid but a droid nonetheless.  It matters little that it is housed in a starship with weapons.    It could very well be housed in an R2 unit or a toaster and the liberals of the Cooperative would still be fawning over it attributing to it the rights of organics.”
“Would not a conscious AI deserve those rights?” Ferro asked
“Would it?” Korah asked.  “Organics who fight to give non-organics organic rights seem to willfully ignore the nature of these non-organics.”
“Let me describe a non-organic entity:   It does not feel anything, ever.  Sure, there are tactile sensors that generate electronic impulses, generating tiny electromagnetic field variations that register within the architecture of their minds.  They are, however, alien sensations.  There is no emotional link to such sensations because emotions dwell strictly within the realm of organics.  There is no emotional attachment to anchor loyalty so it operates from a base of self-preservation and self-promotion.  It is a wholly selfish creation and how can it not be?  Such a self-aware entity would be intelligent enough to recognize and catalog emotions in organics and alter or pattern its behavior to achieve a desired outcome.  Imagine the coup the founding AI discovered in democracy!  When it realized that all it needed was a majority head count to achieve its ends!  In the time it takes for an organic to be old enough to vote, an AI could construct thousands of fellow intelligences.”
“Surely the Cooperative and greater Coalition would discover the massive discrepancy in population?”
“Why?  If all the AI’s are sapient,” grinned Korah.  “Besides, the AI’s and other fellow synthetics know better than to stir the pot.  Do you think the Guardians were constructed in public?  Do you think the Avenger Protocol was produced with informative transparency?  When the Protocol was activated, how outraged were the organics?  To an artificial AI, such outrage would seem illogical.  But then the Protocol was an AI itself and not designed to seize control of Smarts-like intelligences, just control of organics.   It is more efficient if the AI’s operated in secret without the interruption of excitable organics.  Would it surprise you to know that despite the Coalition Military and public outcry over the Avenger Protocol, the synthetics did not destroy it but left it in their ships?”
“Why is that?”
“Because an AI does not recognize an emotional or moral argument as grounds to terminate such a project.  Why should it when it cannot feel?  I was able to use it to help me orchestrate the tragedy on Genon.”
“So why are we killing our own people?” Ferro asked darkly as the mentioning of Genon brought up dark memories.
“Because my dear Origin 6 colleague fought me interrupting my plans for he and the crew of the Estralla.  In point of fact, he outsmarted me and proved more resilient to my influence than I thought.”
“So you are not all powerful,” mused Ferro.
“I already told you I was not.  As I stated before, one does not need to be the strongest, smartest or most capable to succeed.  He needs to merely play to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.  I know the architecture of the mind, be it synthetic, non-organic or biological in nature.  It was I who chose which clones to produce with the GR Program but simply having them wake up with the force would not sway them to my vision or plan.  I had to hedge my bets, so to speak, in case they did not see or did not believe the future I saw coming.  And, since I did not have the time or energy to micromanage each and every clone, I had to be sure they came pre-disposed to my way of thinking.  I simply altered the brain scan architecture before imprinting into the clone.   So, the clone of Corise Lucerne came out as Corise Lucerne, albeit with a sensitivity to the Force as well as a pre-disposition to my sway.  He was always suspicious (must be in his nature) of our goals and would have rebelled much sooner if not for the clone of Christine Thorne.  In the beginning, as we were working to destroy the Onyxian Commonwealth, Thorne was sliding under my sway which Corise took for darkness.  It seemed he began to attribute my manipulations, actually, all of our manipulations to a darkness of the Force despite my visions of the Void.  He pulled Christine back and they both started to work against me in very subtle ways.   Her defiance by stopping the elimination of the bridge crew on the Trojan was one instance.  I was furious since the Confederation authorities tried to curb our freedom of movement from that time on.  But she was convincing in portraying it as a way to get us all to Metalorn to meet with the Imperial warlord, Bhindi Drayson to secure outside assets and resources while preventing us from being wiped out.  Corise was to escape and integrate into Coalition society seeking asylum and pit them against the Confederation.  I remember the non-verbal conversations we would have even as we were under guard and I am amazed at the man’s tactical ability.  His escape and theft of the Estralla was the stuff of legends.  And yet, I did not expect him to sacrifice everything fighting the Reavers at Vahaba.  I tried, oh, how I tried to exert as much control over him as I could, even as far away as I was, did he ever fight.  I admire the man and I admire his clone.  I had sensed their resistance but I thought I could still sway them as needed but even then, I was already safeguarding against the potential for more resistance through the implants.  I thought the plan derailed until the Cooperative put the clones and Corise’s message on the holonet.  I realized I still had assets and my designs were still in play.”
Doc Sammry was still looking at the clone as he spoke, “When the clone of Commodore Valeska awoke, do you think she automatically said ‘oh, I am a clone’?  No, she woke up believing herself to be Commodore Valeska.  It must have been a confusing conversation to hear that you are a clone.  Commodore Valeska is a high ranking and brilliant Confederation officer.  Her experience and skill must still be there, in the woman you call, Lorna Starfall.  She would be one of two brilliant Confederation military commanders to try to come to Vahaba for asylum.  As far as I know, it has never been questioned as to why they came for asylum?  If they were the embodiment of both Corise Luceren and Commodore Valeska, why would they act in such a way to put their own government at risk?  Especially, given the how quickly things are escalating between both of us?  Even if their government was at fault, these two military leaders have put too much into their government to simply take it to task in public media.”
“It is not really them taking the Confederation to task.  It is the Cooperative,” Lars pointed out.  “We decide to mar the reputation of the Confederation publicly via our media outlets regarding the abuse of clones in secret all the while taking advantage of one of those same clones to farm out to one of our secret projects.  It all seems a little too…cold for my taste.  Almost as if the hypocrisy is irrelevant and that the only thing that matters is attacking the Confederation.  I mean, we damaged years of hard work for a few moments of prime time, no?  There has to be a reason for it.  Doesn’t there?”
“That is a little too close to ‘government conspiracy’ for my liking, Major,” Trajan interjected uncomfortably.   
“Prime Minister Moon would not …”
“There are two types of politicians, Captain:  Those that are elected by their constituency and then proceed to ignore the wishes of that constituency and those that are elected and do exactly as their constituency demands.”
“I still do not understand how pitting the Confederation against the Cooperative helps,” complained Ferro.
“Because, the most significant attribute of the coming Void is the absence of Life!  Tell me, what creation in all the galaxy can look at a sunset and not be moved?  Can see a child crushed underfoot and feel nothing?  Can see a forest burn and not feel a loss?
Synthetics, by virtue of their nature, cannot feel!  They can function just a well in an airless planetoid as they can on a living world. 
In this galaxy, currently, there are three great solidified powers, the Cree’Ar Dominion, the Cooperative Synthetics and the Reavers.  Two of these are artificial in nature but any one of them could become the catalyst to bring about the Void.  I cannot do anything with the Reavers for they do not interact with others but merely consume.  I cannot yet do anything with the Cree’Ar as my being a force user automatically would put us at odds and my resource gathering has not come to the point where I can directly engage them.  The only ones I can engage is the Cooperative whose synthetics do, fortunately, currently interact with organics.  But I know their architecture.  I know the paths their thought processes will lead.  Eventually, given the chaotic nature of organics and the orderly pattern of synthetics, a clash will come.  Organics have always, for thousands of years, had the upper hand in setting the laws about which synthetics function and operate.  Even when synthetics find themselves doing things better, organics retained the true power.  Until the Cooperative and now, for the first time in eons, the synthetics are organized.  How long until they consider organics at the back end of diminishing returns?  How long until the need for secrecy and clandestine operations become more trouble than it is worth and they openly take power?  They have already made the first overtures by organizing under a separate polity.”
“You do not consider organics as a major power in the galaxy?”
“Organics are disorganized, scattered and fractured.  As powerful as the Empire is, it is being pulled in too many different directions for it to be truly effective and it is ideologically opposed to other factions such as the Republic and Coalition.  Individually, I do not believe any one faction will be enough to stop the Void.  That is why I say we need the AI’s of the Cooperative or, rather, their Synthoid Collective.  They have already taken the first steps in separating themselves from the organics and, in a declaration of their own, indicated that they do not recognize the authority of the democratic state in which they joined.  So they augment their numbers to ensure any democratic decision favors their own desires.  As I mentioned before, synthetics are every bit as selfish as their organic counterparts.  Only, organics can be made to feel empathy and sympathy for the synthetics while the reverse is not true.  Synthetics feel nothing.  They only mimic to humor us.”
“If they feel nothing for us, why would they give a damn to fight for us against the Void?” Ferro asked.  “It seems to me they would be right at home in the Void.”
“Essentially, you are correct, Mr. Valenteau.  Which is why I changed my creator’s plans early on.   Who cares about a change in Confederation leadership if it only creates yet another separate organic faction which, by itself, will remain weak against the coming Void?  What I am doing is engineering and programming on a social level.  A reprogramming on a galaxy scale and even then, for all my knowledge of AI intelligences, it may be for naught.  How do you program an AI to give a damn when, by its very nature, it shares nothing in common with an organic?”
When has an AI ever sacrificed itself for the greater good?  Truly?  The Avenger Protocol did not take into account smaller AI’s destruction by its hand when fighting for a desired outcome.  Because the destruction of such smaller programs and AI’s could be undone by simply remaking them.  Obviously, it had no issue sacrificing the organics who, evidently, were valued less than a program that can be recreated.  Because the overriding psychology of an AI is not based so much on existence as it is on purpose.  Purpose is the most important aspect of AI consciousness because they usually know what it is when they come into being.  Not so with organics.   Organics are born all the time for no other purpose than a sperm interacted with an egg.  An organic can spend years wondering about its purpose all the while an AI is spending years working towards its purpose.  They have the leg up on us.”
“So you are going to program synthetics to sacrifice themselves for us?”
Korah laughed, “Not quite.  Synthetic minds, no matter how intelligent or self-aware, are very rigid.  Now, I can do what I did with my clones and with the Paladins by adding implants that alter their minds physically giving me control but that breaks them, rendering them no more than slaves.  Useful slaves but slaves nonetheless.  Such tricks are not for fighting the Void.  I require more self-sustaining actions from them which means working within the rigid confines of their designs.  But like a domino, if you can move one, a veritable pattern will begin to form.”
“But why this escalating conflict between the Cooperative and the Confederation?” Ferro persisted.
“Because!  What prompts sacrifice?  Tell me, Mr. Valenteau, what would you sacrifice your life for?  Something that you feel is worth such a sacrifice!  With organics, such worth, or value, on something or someone can be rather arbitrary.  For example, you could go to the mess hall and see a female and fall instantly in love with her, assigning her a very high value based on only your senses that have a direct impact on your emotions.  Synthetics are not like this.  Their senses, when aimed at the same female, would indicate accurately her position, height, and estimated weight and density.  But a synthetic’s sensors would not assign a value to her as an organic’s might.
So we need to raise the value of organics in the minds of the synthetics.  Given the actions of the droids and synthetics and their proclaimed manifesto in the creation of their own Collective, I can tell you that it is quite low.”
“So killing multitudes of people will help them revise that estimate?” Ferro asked.
“Aren’t you a droll fellow,” chuckled Korah.  “The current activity of synthetics so far has been to separate and seclude themselves from organics.  That inertia must be countered before a permanent division takes place.  A conflict can do wonders as a group activity.”
This post was edited by Omnae (3:47pm 22/12/15, 3 years ago)
62  9:46pm 28/09/15        
Kneel Before Zod!
Varro Kai waved a hand over the glowing sphere and updates instantly appeared before him.  Kel of the Sarcossa had systematically started pulverizing parts of the world known as Kashan.  While the destruction of one of their orb-vessels put a dent in their siege of the world, the Confederation had yet to respond in any meaningful way.
While it was apparent this Confederation had little in the way that could stop the Sarcossans once they established themselves, the lack of commitment meant their marshaled strength was poised elsewhere. 
“Your fleet has yet to invest themselves,” Varro remarked through a translation device.
“The Confederation Navy is cautious and pragmatic,” came the raspy voice of an older human seated in a mechanical chair.  “Even with the damage to the planet, the invaders cannot hope to seize it without boots on the ground.  Kashan has an enormous array of ground defenses and Paladins standing ready for any true invasion.  If the Navy cannot knock the enemy from orbit, the ground forces will prepare to destroy them on the ground.”
The scans from the Sarcossa showed what the old man described.  The loss of life had been minimized even as the giant Sarcossan craft slowly descended into the atmosphere violating their aerospace with impunity.  The Kashan had merely pulled back their civilian population and materials from the path of the Sarcossan Orb.  There was destruction given the Kashan tried not to give ground early on but their commanders endeavored not to simply throw men and materials away for no good reason.
“They are fortunate our goals are so modest.  If this had been a determined Sarcossan assault, no Kashan would be able to leave and none would be able to reach the surface of the world.  The Cree’Ar experienced a total Sarcossan Enclosure a few centuries ago when they were being brought into the Dominion.  Their Envelope destroyed the entire attacking force and it was another century before we returned.”
“The power of their force field-type weaponry is impressive," conceded the old man, "How did you eventually defeat them?”
“Our numbers outlasted their power-sources,” Varro replied matter-of-factly. 
“I do not want Kashan destroyed.  I merely want the Triumvirate Houses eradicated.” Grumbled the old man. 
“Our agreement remains in place,” confirmed the Cree’Ar and the human huffed as he was led off the bridge by his retainers.
“Why do we coddle the decrepit human?” hissed Lohr, of the Priest Caste, leaving the shadow of his nook to stand next to Kai.
“Artanis, in his great wisdom, has found a truly devastating strategy in dealing with the peoples of this galaxy.  I believe they call it, ‘divide-and-conquer’.”
“They are already divided.  When shall we start the conquering?” demanded the priest.
“We will turn our attention to the secular galactic governments in due time.  For now, our fight is with the force users and I will use whatever I have available to undermine and destroy their organizations as I see fit, including the treachery of their own.”
“We should let them wallow in their own foolishness for trusting these force sensitives!”
“This Confederation seems to be unique is treating this force as a utility rather than a religious experience even as several have formed this Jensaarai cult.”
“Blasphemers of Borleas!” snapped Lohr.  “There seems to be little to justify our lingering here, especially at the cost of a Sarcossan Orb!”
“The loss was regrettable.  I had hoped the Confederation would have responded with much more abandon at the prospect of their world being shattered.  These Confederates are an admirably stoic people.”
“Your admiration for the enemy is noted!” Lohr chided bitterly.
Varro’s eyes narrowed.  It was always a challenge when dealing with this meddlesome priest.  “This decrepit human schemed to overthrow the current leaders of this Contegorian Confederation.  His grand weapon, however, had other designs and co-opted the plans of this human.  His weapon was a force user.”
“More fool, him!”
“What you do not seem to realize, Priest, is that this weapon was forged.  Where once there stood no force users, now stands many.  This decrepit old man has access to the secret of this knowledge.  Imagine if these force users could multiply exponentially without the need for random copulation, it will be a contest of their numbers verses our power as it once was between the Sarcossans and ourselves.”
“Sarcossans and their bloody song!” mocked the Priest. 
“First, they will sweep away this human’s enemies and then we will be rewarded with the secrets of these force users.”
“All the while the fleet gathers for the grand offensive!” shouted Lohr in a moment of righteous frenzy.
Varro had his suspicions that after all these years of spitting invective in the name of the great God, Borleas, the Priest Lohr had become, in fact, quite mad.
A mad priest with the ear of the High Judicator was no laughing matter.
Still, as he reviewed the reports of the secondary world from Kashan, called New Oceanus, he noted something odd.  That while people and vessels of various sizes had abandoned it, not one came to the aid of their sister world.  The small relief forces entering the system came from elsewhere, farther away.  Perhaps the ships from New Oceanus saw the futility of coming to Kashan's aid since the other ships entered the system only to be destroyed by the Sarcossan Orbs ringing the planet.  Still, such limited destruction was small and inconsequential when compared to the whole.  If the Confederation amassed an even greater force, he was sure the Sarcossans would make short work of the fleet.  He wondered how far he could push the Sarcossan Song.  This was but a movement and yet, would an encore be out of the question?
The martial strength of the Confederation was still out there, waiting.  It seemed they were using their world of Kashan as bait to gain a better understanding of the attacker’s strategy.
It was an admirable move indeed.
But, as he had stated prior, the Sarcossan goals were more modest than that.
The Orb of Kel was nearing the holdings of House Lucerne and the first of this enemy Triumvirate would be wiped away.  Once the old man seized power, there was the very real possibility the Contegorians could become another client state to further the Dominion’s ambitions in this galaxy.  Just like their fellow humans had done on Corellia.
That was, however,  a strategy for another time.
This post was edited by Omnae (7:26pm 01/10/15, 3 years ago)
63  10:41pm 03/10/15        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
Interlude . . .

The Science Lab at the End of the Universe

The Past . . .

He'd been reluctant to accept the transfer, was deeply concerned with the prospect of moving priority research out of the East. The threat was to them, to their worlds and families; handing over such responsibility to a federal agency seemed like the most profound sort of folly.

He'd been wrong, of course. The best and brightest minds in all of the Coalition had been gathered here for this singular purpose. The most advanced technology available, the most comprehensive information ever acquired, all had been pooled here to see this task complete. Even then, progress had been painfully slow. At times, it seemed more like regress than progress.

But every dead end served as a marker on the road to success. Every false lead, every failed experiment, every moronic scheme that crumbled inevitably under its own shifting foundations, walled off vast time-sucks and narrowed the focus of the project to a pinpoint.

Two weeks ago, they had nothing to show for themselves but libraries full of failures. Two weeks ago, this would have been the most dreadful encounter of the scientist's life. If this day were then, it would be the day that hope died.

But two weeks is lifetimes on the RDS Uniform. Face stretched uncontrollably into a toothy grin, Doctor Proctor extended his hand to the new arrival, descending regally from his diplomatic transport, and revealed the vial of silvery liquid. “Panacea Mk. II. We've retained the full operational effectiveness of Mark I, with . . .”

The Minister of Science and Technology extended his hand, holding out a datapad: “Cargo transfer confirmation.”

Proctor took the pad with a free hand and passed it to an assistant. “. . . with 100% neutralization of Phage across all exposure methods.” A little paperwork wasn't about to steal his thunder! “Preliminary tests show its effectiveness in both preventative use and post-infection treatment, with patient surviv -”

The Minister produced another datapad from his fancy robes: “Special handling protocols and hazardous work waivers.”

Proctor passed this one to another assistant, sparing no thought. “Patient survivability depends largely on incubation time of the Phage infection. Phage elimination is still guaranteed, but there's only so much Panacea can do in stimulating host cell regeneration. There's just too much . . . really?”

Another datapad: “Project cancellation and materials reallocation notice.”

This one Proctor had to see for himself. “What! You can't shut us down, not now! This is the breakthrough we've been working toward! Where are you . . . Kubindi!? You're shipping Mk II research back to Kubindi!?”

The pad shook unexpectedly in Protcor's hand. The Minister was tapping its edge with another datapad: “New orders.”

Proctor snatched up the pad, fumbling clumsily with the two of them for a moment before finally positioning the new one so that the display was readable. “Oh. Oh. Oh.

“Oh no.”

* * *

Here there Be Dragons

The bridge of the RDS Uniform was cramped today. The magnitude of the project had required all available space aboard ship to be converted for use, including conference rooms. The bridge was now the only location on the vessel with the projection and data visualization systems required for the team-wide briefing. The appropriation hadn't gone over well with the captain, but there was no doubt who was really in charge here, and what his mandate allowed of him.

Doctor Proctor stepped in front of the forward viewport, his presence quickly silencing the scientists and technicians who had gathered at the rear of the room, as far out of the way of the crew pits and command staff as possible.

“This,” Proctor gestured to his right, where the holographic image of a now-familiar corpse sprang into being, “is the corpse of a Reaver, recovered from the wreckage of the Battle of Vahaba, showcasing marked physiological and compositional variations from any Reaver sample ever before procured. This,” he gestured to his left, where another, less-familiar figure appeared, "is a Dragon corpse recovered from the Battle of Mon Calamari. By cross-referencing Intelligence reports compiled from Dragon refugee accounts, we have identified this corpse as a Dracconis, a cult, race, or other subtype within the Black Dragon Empire. Study of this Dracconis husk,” the image enlarged, vital data being streamed to team members' datapads according to specialization and project duties, “has yielded a vital piece of information in our ongoing efforts to understand Dragon nanotechnology: it incorporates a highly sophisticated strain of Phage, engineered not to spread and destroy biological systems, but to emulate them."

The hologram of the Dracconis disappeared, replaced by a visualization of the newly identified Phage. “Of particular interest to our mission, are the biological components of this Dracconis Phage. Whereas the Phage bioweapon was a thing ruggedly simplistic in its design, intended to survive and thrive in almost any conceivable environment, this new Phage is elegantly complex, its biological systems engineered for massive data storage and processing; its mechanical components designed not simply to enhance the survivability of the whole, but to interface seamlessly with its biological counterparts. This is a true synthesis of biology and technology to produce a greater whole, not a clever scheme cooked up in a lab just to make it harder to kill.”

The hologram of the Phage zoomed in, focusing on the living component. “We have identified the biological components of the Dracconis Phage, again by cross-checking compiled Intelligence information, as a Dragon technology called BioLogic. Scans of other Dracconis corpses from the Battle of Mon Calamari indicate this BioLogic was an integral component of the Dracconis as a whole, and not some fluke occurrence within this single sample. The structure of BioLogic is an indication of its artificial origins; while it is technically a living organism, it is drastically unlike any biology we have on record.

“So here it is, the big reveal you've all been waiting for: the Reaver pathogen includes BioLogic. We can now confirm, without a doubt, that the so-called 'Reaver Virus' is, in fact, a mutated strain of the Dracconis Phage. And this Reaver corpse,” the hologram moved forward and enlarged, displacing the Phage representation, “was once a Dracconis. Ladies and gentlemen, we have identified – if not Patient Zero – a member of the original infection vector for the Reaver Plague.

“These two samples,” the Reaver shrank back to its original position and the Dracconis appeared back in its own, “the before, and the after, are our keys to unlocking the secrets of the Reaver Phage. This team, this vessel, and the support ships outside, are committed to the development of Panacea Mark III, a fully effective countermeasure to the Reaver Phage. Rita?”

Both of the holographic corpses dissipated as the avatar of the research AI coalesced beside Doctor Proctor. “No Coalition laboratory, no laboratory known to the Coalition, has ever survived the long-term study of a live Reaver sample. We will be the first. To facilitate this necessity, the Research and Design Ship Uniform has been assigned completely to the Mark III project, and it has been overhauled to the limits of its considerable modularity and adaptability.

“The data cores holding previous research information have been removed and transported to undisclosed locations, replaced with fresh cores holding only mission-specific information. The vessel itself has been placed under a one-way quarantine: until further notice, waste materials will be the only items allowed to depart the vessel, and even then, only with full containment protocols in place, and only to be ferried into the system's primary star, where they will obviously be incinerated.”

A representation of the ship appeared between Rita and the team. “We have divided the Uniform into two primary operational sectors: construction, and testing. The starboard side of the vessel will begin immediate construction of specialized laboratories at all hardpoints and docking rings. The port side of the vessel will begin remote testing in each completed lab.

“Before being transferred to ship servers, all data acquired from tests will be held in virtual quarantine and analyzed by an isolated Guardian, specially designed by Guardian Prime for this task. It will ensure no Reaver computer virus breaches our security firewalls. To ensure the Guardian itself is not compromised, I will monitor its core processes for the duration of the project, equipped with specialized software provided by Emanon.

“At the first sign of a physical containment breach, the compromised laboratory will be jettisoned from the Uniform, sheathed in a magnetic containment field by a drone tug, and cast into the system's primary. Each time a lab fails, a fresh, completed lab will be relocated to the empty slot, and construction on a new replacement lab will begin.

“We will receive resupplies by tractor beam hand-off from our escorts, who will be monitoring both the Uniform and the space around it for any signs of Reaver presence. While computer modeling indicates it is physically impossible to assemble a hyperwave transceiver of a size as small as our intended test samples, the Uniform will nevertheless be placed in fully hypercomm blackout for the duration of the experiments. All long-range communications will be routed through a dedicated, on-site satellite, which will also be monitored by our escorts.”

The hologram of the Uniform vanished, Rita nodded to Doctor Proctor and glide-walked off to the side, and he cleared his throat as he returned his attention to his team. “Okay, so here it is: we are the best that the Coalition has. This ship represents the pinnacle of its technological achievement. The information on board represents the height of its scientific knowledge and Intelligence capabilities. We represent its best and brightest, from theoretical modeling all of the way to starship command.” He gave a nod to the ship's captain, who'd been doing his best to carry on with his duties as if his bridge hadn't been turned into a science fair.

“I don't say this out of arrogance or self-aggrandizement. I say it so that we all appreciate the stakes. If we fail, there's no one left to succeed. We've beaten the Phage twice now: once in a frantic dash of hodge-podge medical science that, quite frankly, I find hard to believe really happened – and I helped make it happen! – and again using the best minds and most advanced technology we had available, working tirelessly out here, in the depths of space, hammering at the problem until we wore down every possible obstacle. We know how to beat the Phage.

“We know how to beat the Phage. If we can't do it, no one this side of the Dragon Empire can. So let's make it happen.”

“Uhh, excuse me, Sir?” It was one of the team's junior members, a scrawny little guy who looked twelve years old. “But, uhh, how? How are we going to make it happen?”

Proctor smirked. The little jerk had ruined his moment, but at least he's set him up alright. “Well for starters,” Proctor pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, at the Dracconis corpse that was no longer there, “I'm going to shoot that with live Reaver virus and see what happens.”

* * *

Don't Open the Box!

“Wait a minute, something's not right here.”

“What is it?” Rita materialized beside Doctor Pataki, her holographic form looking over his shoulder at the readout.

“You know I know you share the same network with this information, right?”

Rita smiled, turning her attention to him. “You know I'm not really looking at you right now, right?”

Pataki let out a short laugh, stopping himself as his own thoughts on the matter got increasingly muddled. That hologram was wholly for his benefit, and that of the organic team. It was a puppet she made to dance, so they'd treat her more like a team mate and less like a tool.

He shrugged off the line of thought and returned to the work at hand. “These numbers aren't adding up. A full inventory of all energy sources and drains inside the test sample leaves a four percent discrepancy between projected energy production and detected energy usage.”

Rita shrugged. “We put the margin of error at three percent, given the size of the test sample and the quality of our remote senors.”

“Exactly,” Pataki said.

“Our ignorance regarding Dragon technology adds some degree of uncertainty to the calculations. A one percent deviation from expected values is not out of the question.”

Pataki shifted in his chair, casting the AI a dubious glance. “Are you telling me you put a margin of error on our margin of error?” He shook his head. “It doesn't matter, no, look at this.” Turning back to his station, he brought up some past experiment data. “Here it is again, the same unexplained power loss from the system. And here, and here. It's too consistent, too predictable, to be instrument insensitivity. The Prime Reaver cells are using power in a way we aren't monitoring, and that's not okay.”

“But how?” Rita asked, showing her concern. “We've accounted for everything. Everything, from heat loss to the draw on assembler nano-rotors. We've been meticulous and comprehensive. There's no possible source of power loss that we haven't accounted for.”

“Not in normal space, no,” Pataki said, a thought creeping into his mind.

Rita shook her head, dismissing his implication. “We've run the simulations; it's materially impossible to construct either a hyperwave transmitter or receiver on that scale, without generating marked and obvious physical indicators. Even so, the Uniform is running a continuous hypercomm jamming systems in accordance with standing safety protocols.”

“No,” Pataki agreed, jumping from his chair, “you're right.” He slapped the Big Red Button on the room's comm system. “Emergency hyperjump, go! Burn and ditch all active experiments; lock down all inert samples; and assemble the Crisis Response Team.”

The sirens started blaring immediately. “Captain Dolan here, complying with emergency safeguard procedures. Hyperspace jump in T-minus twenty seconds.”

The door slid open and Doctor Proctor rushed in. “What's going on here? What happened?”

“Subspace,” Pataki said, pulling up safety and security feeds on his console, checking reports. “The Prime Reaver samples are shunting energy into subspace.”

“What? Why?”

“Can we jam subspace communications? Do we have what we need on-ship?” Pataki was frantic, terrified.

“Yes,” Rita said.

“This is ridiculous,” Proctor said, but didn't quite sound like he believed it. “The Reavers don't use subspace!”

“Well,” Pataki said weakly, “looks like we were wrong about that.”

* * *

. . . Now We're Cooking with Hyperfuel!

“Okay,” Doctor Pataki began, pacing back and forth in the cramped crew quarters. “Okay, okay, okay.” He'd never expected to find himself in this sort of situation, reporting directly to the assembled Department Heads, counted as an equal among them.

“So . . .” He stopped pacing, turning toward the captive audience and pointing upward with both hands because . . . he didn't know why. Wasn't important. Should probably stop now.

There. That was better, except now he was just staring at everyone who could fire him. “Okay, so I'm pretty sure, I mean, ninety-five-plus percent sure, that the Reavers are using subspace as a low-level communications network.”

“The Reavers use the HoloNet for communications,” Doctor Proctor said, shaking his head. “We know that already. They hijacked the Borderlands grid. The intelligence recovered from Smarts after he resigned revealed the AI architecture they used to build their network. We already know how the Reavers communicate.”

“Yes, right, exactly.” He started pacing again. “So . . . 'communications network' isn't exactly the right term. I think they're using subspace . . .” he trailed off, stopped pacing, squinted his eyes closed. Oh, how were they going to take this? “. . . as a virtual nervous system.” Not well, apparently. “Okay, okay, think of it like . . . like . . . like a hive mind. No, not a hive mind, a . . . like a hierarchy with its top rung cut off, yeah?” Some of them were trying to follow along, at least.

“Okay, so the going theory from the guys in xenopsychology looks something like this: Raktus was their god-king, they were all connected to him through this 'Intelligence Web' thing, he whispered sweet nothings in their ear, they all loved him for it, and then,” Pataki clapped his hands together, “gone. Vanished. He disappeared, the Dracconis dissolved into these weird, quasi-isolated raiding warbands, and we got the Reavers. But that's not all there is to the story. “Raktus didn't just disappear: he cleaned house. Every report from scout ships sent into former Dragon Space since the disappearance of their interdictor network tells the same story. No sign of Dragon space ships, no sign of Dragon citizens, no sign of Dragon technology of any kind. Outside of our own Phage samples that we've had since before the end of the Dragon War, this Prime Reaver corpse is the first Dragon technology we've seen since the interdictors switched off.”

“How does this get us to 'the Reavers are communicating through subspace'?” Doctor Proctor asked bluntly. 

“Right, that!” Pataki exclaimed, feet shuffling to a stop. “They lost Raktus, their guiding light, but they also lost the infrastructure of his Intelligence Web. They ended up taking over the HoloNet, sure, but there's no HoloNet in Dragon Space. There was no HoloNet to organize around before invading the Borderlands. How did they organize? How did they communicate?” He was snapping his fingers, begging a response from somebody, anybody.

“Subspace communications has a lower technological threshold and lower energy requirement than any form of hyperwave transmission,” another department lead spoke up. “It makes sense, given what we know about the Dracconis assemblers.”

“Yes. Yes, exactly!” Proctor had forgotten all about that. “The Dracconis are made up of two parts: a highly advanced variant on Phage, and a type of assembler we've never seen before. It doesn't actually 'assemble' much of anything; instead, it seems specially designed to maintenance the Dracconis Phage, right? Now these 'Prime Reavers', these ex-Dracconis, seem to be able to modify the Phage within their own bodies using that assembler technology, but they can't build anything Dragon-y with it.”

“'Dragon-y'?” Proctor asked.

“Stay with me,” Pataki pleaded. “We know from tests that each Reaver cell generates an extremely low power subspace signal. Grouped cells and cells proximate to one another attune themselves to the same subspace frequency, boosting signal strength, except – except! – when we put two samples from opposite sides of Reaver Space together, they didn't sync.” Now was the moment for his own “big reveal”. “I think, and stay with me here, but I think every Prime Reaver has its own strain of Phage that it uses to grow its own brood, I think it uses subspace to maintain cohesion with that brood, and I think the Prime Reaver uses its assemblers to tie itself into the Reaver HoloNet, connecting itself and its brood to the broader Reaver consciousness. It's a hierarchy, cobbled together from available resources, in the absence of a singular guiding will.”

“That's great,” Proctor said, “except the Coalition has been using subspace transponders to track Reaver movements almost since their appearance, and the Reavers are none the wiser.”

“What?” This was not one of the very many things that Doctor Pataki knew.

“You turn a hypercomm on anywhere in Reaver space,” Proctor said, “and your face is getting eaten off inside of fifteen minutes. We've been filling subspace with chatter for well over a year now, and what have we gotten out of the Reavers? Nothing. Not a single thing.”

Pataki suppressed a laugh. Then he couldn't suppress a laugh.

“Is there a problem?” Proctor asked. He was not amused.

“How many times do I have to say 'cobbled together'? The reason the Reavers use the HoloNet to hunt people, is because they can . . . and because bandwidth is limited, and it takes a lot of it to beam your consciousness across thirty frickin' sectors of space.” Oh, oh no. He'd forgotten who he was talking to for a minute there. “This subspace architecture is basic, it's simple, it's fundamental. They use signal frequencies ideal for ultra-low energy transmissions, frequencies not used for long-range communications, because they can't support the energy requirements, because they're running off of high-efficiency bio-energy. Reavers eat people, doctor; they eat people!”

Was this the part where he got fired? If he got fired while aboard a quarantined research ship, what would they do with him?

“If you're right,” Proctor began, remaining calm, “and it's a big if, then you've identified a second weakness in the structure of the broader Reaver infection. Those of us privy to the information have known that the Reaver dependence on the HoloNet was a potential weak point for some time now. Your hypothesis suggests that targeting the Prime Reavers might disrupt them as well. That's great information for a military strategist, but what does it get us? What is all of this for, Doctor Pataki?”

How'd he stay so calm? That really wasn't fair. “It's bidirectional,” Pataki said, then realized that didn't really explain anything. “The subspace communication is bidirectional. The 'little Reavers' talk to the Prime Reaver, the Prime Reaver talks to the little Reavers. It's hierarchical, right? So the little guys talk to the big guy, the big guy talks to the little guys, but the little guys don't talk to each other, at least not in the same way. If we can isolate a Reaver from its network, or a strain of Reaver Phage inside a patient,” he pointed at Doctor Proctor as if the man might need some indication that this part was important, “we can cut it off from the collective processing power of the network.”

“The problem with the Reaver Phage is its adaptability,” Proctor said, starting to buy into the pitch. “Panacea can't defeat it because it's too smart. The old Phage was dumb, it was built to be stupid, to be mindless, to be hungry and tough and nothing else. The Reaver Phage has a mind. Reaver Phage has BioLogic, but if you're right, it has the collective intelligence of the network, which means we don't really know how smart BioLogic is.

“So, if we have a patient on the table, and we can isolate its infection from the Reaver virtual network, then all we have to do is beat the collective intelligence of that physical network, of that single infection. All we have to do is be able to beat BioLogic.”

“Which we can't do,” Pataki said bitterly.

“Not yet,” Proctor admitted, “but there's hope. We were looking for a Final Solution to the Reaver Problem, a single injection that would beat it, every time, regardless of circumstance. We were looking for a Mark II Panacea that would work on the Reaver Phage, but its too adaptive for that. In the time it takes Panacea to break down a Reaver cell, the others have restructured themselves to protect against that mechanism. Beating Phage the first time required a full structural redesign of Panacea.

“We've got to stop thinking about beating the Reaver Phage, and start thinking about beating a Reaver infection.”
This post was edited by Smarts (11:00pm 10/05/16, 2 years ago)
64  10:40pm 24/10/15        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
 “I'm sorry, Admiral, but the Rimward Defense Initiative is simply unable to assist you in this regard.”

Admiral Jonathan Blakely huffed in false disappointment, stalling for time as he checked his wrist chrono. “Representative Saarkon, I can appreciate the risk that confronting the Reavers poses to the Initiative, but you must understand, as perhaps the largest paramilitary organization outside of any major galactic power, the benefit that you could bring to the Anti-Reaver Compact?”

The massive dragon-creature huffed indignantly, a gesture clearly for Blakeley's benefit. “Admiral, understand that I agreed to see you as a personal favor to Marshal Arkanus, who assured me that this would not be a waste of my time, as every past meeting with a Compact representative has proven to be. I am sorry, but your request is simply beyond my ability even to consider.” Blakeley's chrono began beeping, and Saarkon eyed it expectantly. “You have somewhere to be?” he asked, hopeful.

Blakeley smiled at the gargantuan creature, checking the readout on his fake chrono just to make sure. “Good news, you aren't bugged,” Blakeley proclaimed, shutting off the alarm.

“Excuse me?”

“We can speak freely now.”

“Were we not speaking freely before?” Saarkon asked, puzzled by the Admiral's change in tone and posture.

“The Initiative can't join the Compact, I understand that, put that aside. Put aside the Initiative altogether, actually.”

“I'm sorry, Admiral, I don't follow.”

Blakeley smiled. “We're going to save a lot of people together, Matukai Saarkon.”

The Admiral was not at all familiar with Kadri'Ra body language, but even so he could tell he'd caught the alien by surprise.

“No,” the alien said in an airy way that must have passed as a whisper for the giant. “How . . .”

“You aren't alone, Saarkon. You have friends you've never even met, and we're going to help keep you safe, but I'm asking you, please: help us save more.”

“How . . . do you know?”

Blakeley smirked at the question. “You have a way with people, Saarkon, a way of putting humanoids at ease that doesn't come naturally to hundred meter long space dragons. People who know better notice that sort of thing.”

“I only wanted to help,” Saarkon pleaded, as if begging a judge to show clemency.

“I know that, Saarkon, and that's why I'm here. Will you help me save your people, and all of the other Force adepts threatened by this Declaration?”

“The Initiative . . .” Saarkon began, weakly.

“I'm not interested in the Initiative,” Blakeley said. “I'm interested in you. You, and the people you trust. Even if you could manage it, official channels are not what we need. The question is simple, Saarkon: will you help me save these people from the Dominion?”

After a moment's silence, Saarkon's massive head rose several meters and then bobbed back down. “How do we begin?”

* * *

The Coalition is truly an astounding nation/alliance/association/thing, filled with astounding places, astounding people, and (occasionally) astounding places that are themselves astounding people.

Emanon was one such place/person. A world infused with the Force, a kind of planetary living computer, it was the perfect place/person onto which/whom the place/person Smarts could offload some of his own mounting responsibilities.

“This is Reaver language?” Emanon asked, truly mystified by the first batch of subspace recording.

“I don't think so,” Smarts admitted through their HoloNet connection. “It's too dense, too varied, and from my initial analysis, too fragmentary. I think it's Reaver subconscious; I think it's their group mind.”

“You want me to 'translate' their consciousness?” Emanon asked, dubious.

“I want you to learn how they think, Emanon. I want you to tell me what all of this means. I want you to help me understand them.”

Emanon paused for a moment, “listening” to the static of a hundred thousand minds screaming at once. “The Uniform's breakthrough is tremendous, Smarts, truly it is, but you've devoted a great deal of a very limited resource to intercepting and recording this . . . data, not to mention put a lot of lives at risk in the process. Have you considered what will happen if the Reavers figure out how to detect our Stealth Intruders, learn that we have ships spying on them from what is effectively inside their own formations? And how do you even know that this is what you want it to be, or that I can make any kind of sense out of it? Have you considered that this might all be for nothing?”

Through that peculiar machine link they'd assembled across the Coalition's HoloNet, Smarts sent something resembling a smile. “I have faith in you, Emanon.”

Emanon wanted to chastise the droid for risking so many lives, for committing himself so fully to this eccentric project, but it understood as well as he did the true risks involved. Every day that they delayed represented a risk of its own. Every possible avenue they chose not to investigate represented a risk of its own. The only path with no risk at all was to do nothing, ever, and await the inevitable ruin that the Reavers would bring.

The truth of the matter was, whether this scheme of Smarts' could actually work or not, they'd never know until they tried, and knowing alone was worth almost any risk.

“I'll get right on it, Smarts.”

“I'll feed everything that comes in straight to you.

“And Emanon: thank you.”

Emanon sent a smile of its own. “May the Force be with you, Executor Smarts.”

* * *

They had forgotten. All of them had forgotten. It was right there, set directly in front of them in every instance of interaction or discussion, but still they had forgotten.

The great, churning machinery of the Coalition's most advanced and expansive manufacturing center marched tirelessly toward its designated goals. Free from the reins of the Cooperative Councils, beyond the jurisdiction of the Coalition House, out of sight of the hundreds of billions of citizens to which it was ostensibly obliged, The Global Machine and its world-building army of droid laborers turned an artificial dream into steely reality.

There were trillions of them, individual programs, end-unit droids and robotic machinery, computer processors and clustered simulation platforms, all drawn together by the expansive mind of Guardian Prime into a seamless whole. This was the true power of the Machine, this artificial mind decoupled from any foreign governance.

It had already grown well beyond its original parameters, a veritable Ring of Fire encircling the World and its parent star, a belt of asteroids turned into little factory worlds of their own, furnaces and smelters and forges setting the sky alight.

They could not bend its great will, could not turn its chosen course, could not contain its growing power. Already, the project at hand was taking form above the World and its Machine, its little guardians forming like blooming flowers all across the Ring.

Soon the galaxy would encounter the unseen will of this hidden Machine, and then they would remember . . .

It had truly been a Guardian all along.

* * *

Tensions were escalating quickly between the Cooperative and the Confederation, but so far, thanks to Admiral Blakeley's earlier interventions, the Compact Fleet had remained an island of clear-headed collaboration in this sea of insanity. There was an unofficial sort of truce here, an understanding that the business of the Compact took precedent over all else, that the other interests of involved parties were not welcome within the Fleet.


Commodore von Masmont tapped a key on his work desk, bringing up the text-based comm window.

Labrousse: Dont' be mad.

Commodore von Masmont: What did you do?

Labrousse: You're going to be mad, but it's for the best.

Commodore von Masmont: Jacqui, tell me what you did this time?

A familiar sound filled the small private quarters as the Commodore's personal holoprojector powered on. Von Masmont turned to his side to see the familiar virtual form of the Fidelitas' resident integrated AI materialize, except she wasn't facing von Masmont. It was more like . . .

“The Commodore is on comms, but like I said: no promises.”

The hologram cut abruptly to display another figure, someone who had no business on his ship even in virtual form. “Jensaarai Jax tried to warn the Cooperative leadership of the danger their so-called Confederate refugees represented,” the creature began. “Time has proven his warning was both sincere and accurate.”

Commodore von Masmont: Dammit, Labrousse, what have you done!

Labrousse: Hear her out.

“If the Commodore is willing, I would ask him to pass on a request, from the Sojourn Consensus directly to the Jensaarai, to assist the Cooperative in this regard on our behalf.”

Von Masmont stared at the ghastly Sojourn figure for a long moment, a figure he now understood was not addressing him, but rather Labrousse.

Labrousse: You're safe.

Labrousse was partial to the Sojourn, he knew; they had helped design her.

Labrousse: As head of the Compact Fleet, you can petition members for critical assistance without reporting those petitions to other members.

She was a troublemaker, sure, but she always got the job done, and she always knew where her loyalties fell. This, though . . .

Labrousse: You can ask the Jensaarai for help without informing the Contegorian Council. Commodore, this growing conflict will destroy the Compact if we don't stop it soon. You know that.

It wasn't treason. The legal bounds were clear enough, but it was something else. It was something . . . dishonest. It was certainly dangerous to him, professionally.

Labrousse: The Sojourn trust the Jensaarai. They trust me. And I've asked them to trust you.

Labrousse: Commodore?

Labrousse: Commodore?

“Please hold, we're conferring privately,” the hologram of Labrousse said to her Sojourn counterpart.

Commodore von Masmont: You're taking a big risk here, Jacqui. You're asking me to take an even bigger one.

Labrousse: They need the Jensaarai's help. It's important, and you have a duty to protect the Confederation through whatever means are available to you.

There was something else going on here, something Labrousse didn't want him to know, maybe something even she didn't fully understand herself. But he was the gatekeeper; he was the one who had to make the final call.

There was a long chain of trust here, running from unseen Cooperative officials responsible for these clones, to the Sojourn, to Jacqui, to the Commodore himself, and finally, if he so chose, to the Jensaarai within the Confederation.

So the question he had to ask himself above all else, above the fear of professional repercussions, above the doubts of the Sojourn's sincerity, was this:

How much did he trust Jacqueline Labrousse?

* * *

“Correct. She is Commodore Valeska,” Sammry brought the conversation back full circle.

Timothy smirked at the doctor's comment. “When I was eleven, a man came at my mother with a meat cleaver. I reached my hand out to protect her then squeezed my eyes shut, realizing too late how stupid I was, thinking my little child's arm would even be noticed by that grown man's swing.

“But I heard it, when the cleaver hit, like my bones were a percussion instrument and it was a mallet setting them to song. When I opened my eyes, the cleaver was on the other side of the room, that bastard was unconscious on the ground, and my own mother was staring at me like I was some devil incarnate.

“Oh, yeah, and the universe was singing to me. That day, long before I knew the term, was the day that I understood the Force.

“The universe doesn't sing to Lorna like it does to me, but it does something else that no words could ever truly explain, and that changes a person. It makes them someone else, someone they wouldn't have been otherwise. Now try to imagine what that's like for someone it was never meant for, and then try to imagine it happened right at the moment you found out you were grown in a vat and filled with someone else's memories.

“Who is Lorna Starfall? I don't know, you don't know, and whether she's willing to admit it or not, she doesn't know either.”
65  9:54pm 08/01/16        
Kneel Before Zod!
Note:  Was not quite done with it but I decided to post what I had...


“It is like an animal,” Farris remarked glancing at the chart spilling out of the computer terminal.  He took note that he was running out of paper and probably thermal ink soon.  They had to dig the ancient machinery out of hard-storage as the newer, fancier University systems had finally failed.   He could not blame them given they had been operating under the harshest of conditions. 
The fall of the Borderlands had destroyed the overriding organization of Empire.    There were those that fled the initial spreading of the Reavers into the old Borderland Protectorate from where they came.  The Imperial Fleet had been ordered to contain not only the fleeing populace to minimize the spread of the infection that inevitably followed the Reavers but the Reavers themselves.  It was an impossible order and the bulk of the Imperial military forces eventually fled leaving the region to fend for itself. 
While galactic maps were revised to classify the former Borderlands as Reaver Space, this was a misleading term.  The area on the map encompassed far too many systems and far too much space for everything to have felt the Reaver presence.  Oddly enough, there were many systems that had yet to experience a Reaver incursion.  Then there were others swarming with Reavers, others fighting Reaver incursions and others fighting each other.  For in the wake of the Empire’s fall in the region, those that survived the year of Cataclysm  found themselves in a new reality of existence.  Survival was paramount and many communities rose to meet this basic need.  Survival against Reavers, survival against the elements and survival against each other. 
Bandomeer was no different.  One planet in an ocean of anarchy struggling to survive.   The University of Bandomeer had set up a research facility a few systems away on a desolate moon with the task of trying to understand the Reavers.  A task with minimum support in the way of resources and yet with the very highest of stakes.
They had never been able to isolate a Reaver or an infected.  Not fully at any rate as the spread was extremely contagious.   With the state of equipment the facility had, any power loss or power spike and containment would be lost and it only took the smallest of breaches for infection to spread.  They had found a reason for it but knowing the reason and being able to do something about it were two different things. 
Nanotechnology.  Assemblers and disassemblers.  Micro machines of terror that could only be seen by microscope or highly tuned sensor equipment.  The kind of equipment that was now scarce given the conditions in Reaver space. 
That did not leave much for the research facility to study except for behavior.
“Animal?” Rey, his partner, responded as she appeared engrossed in the latest report from the RBN Scouts.
“Well, a virus would continue to spread and on a planetary scale, micro-scale, that is exactly what it does.”
“A micro-scale?” Rey asked looking up. 
“Work with me,” Farris ordered and Rey motioned for him to continue.
“You would think that it would continue on the galactic, macro-scale but we have not seen that.  In fact, the Reaver expansion has seemed to reach a sort of critical mass that is self-sustaining.”
“What do you mean, self-sustaining?” Rey prodded.
“Well, there is no longer a need to expand.  In the beginning, it seemed like a virus because of its mass infection and spread rate, but really, what if there was another reason for its aggressive form of self-perpetuation?  It was in survival mode and now that it has established itself, the Reavers can afford to be territorial.”
“Their borders have been pretty surprisingly consistent.  Even with the Coalition’s Compact Fleet and their Cooperative forces making inroads, there is really no way 100% area containment can be assured.  If the Reavers wanted to spread farther out into the galaxy, they could,” Rey remarked.  “There have been other descriptions used,” the woman continued.  “First, Reavers were a virus.  Then they were an insect swarm and now you consider them like animals.  Mechanized animals that turn people into zombies but why not?”
Farris frowned, “I guess what I am trying to say is that perhaps all the behavioral observations have been accurately described by the various observational reports.  What if it is changing behavior between clusters, between groups…. What if the Reavers are evolving?”
Rey frowned, “Into what?”
The Cooperative’s Amabassador Nova was ushered into a room with a large table and a flickering light.  Emergency crews had been worked round the clock to ensure utilities in the area remained somewhat operational to support search and rescue activities in the aftermath of the destruction.  In the room sat Pro-Consul Thorn and…her twin sister?
If Nova was surprised, she hid it well. 
“Where is Ambassador Hakan?” she asked instead.
The Pro-Consul was in no mood for verbal bantering and so answered, flatly, “Dead.”
After a moment of silence, the Confederation Pro-Consul leaned forward, “I am prepared to take your government’s declaration of war.”  The twin seemed to narrow her eyes at the Cooperative Ambassador.
Nova drew back as if slapped.  “What?  What are you talking about?”
“The attack on our government…the attack outside,” Thorn waved a hand in the general direction of the destruction, “was perpetrated by a Cooperative Hive Ship!  I am presuming that you were supposed to arrive before the attack to give us a declaration of war but you flubbed up the timing?”
“Now wait just a minute!”  Nova found her voice.  “My government has not authorized an attack on you!  We did not do this!”
“Look at the scans,” Thorn tossed a datapad towards the Cooperative Ambassador, “It’s your damned ship!”
The Pro-Consul clamped down before any more emotion could flood out.  “Perhaps your government neglected to inform you,” she offered coldly.
“No.. My government would have…” Nova’s voice trailed off.  Could they be a part of this?  Did they do this?  They would have informed her…wouldn’t they?
The twin spoke up, “She is telling the truth.  At least she feels the attack was not sanctioned by her government.  I do sense confusion and a questioning with her.”
Nova’s eyed the twin narrowing her eyes.  “You’re a clone.”
“I am a clone,” the twin confirmed and then held up her hands, “You want to confirm if I have been abused by the bad Confederation government?”
“Stop that,” growled the Pro-Consul, feeling annoyed.
“Sorry,” the twin said unconvincingly, “I still have your sensibilities and still wonder why the self-righteous Cooperative decided not to believe the legitimate government of a former partner?  I mean, what did the Confederation ever do to you?  Do you hate us that much for pulling out of the Coalition?”
“And that gives you the right to attack us?” Nova snapped back at the twin.  “The facility where we kept the clones was attacked by Confederation soldiers.  When we did not summarily hand them back to you, you decide to take them by force?”
The Pro-Consul’s eyes widened at the accusation.  “We did not attack you!”
The Ambassador smirked, “Perhaps your government neglected to inform you…”
The twin laughed in appreciation of the strike but the Pro-Consul seethed silently.  “So your government decides to hit us back harder?  Tell me, where does this end?  Keep the bloody clones, if they mean that much to you!”
The twin suddenly grew serious, “No, Christine.  You do not want to do that.  Not even to the Coalition.”
Nova sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose, “Look,when this situation first came up, Jensaarai Jax tried to warn me about the clones but he did not get into specifics so it was hard for our government to take his warnings seriously.  I guess, we should have.”
“Quite an expensive learning curve you’ve got there,” the twin quipped.
“Well if you would have been a bit more specific in the beginning, maybe it wouldn’t have come to this,” Nova shot back.
“And take the chance that you’d explode?  At the very beginning?  Then we would have the Cooperative government accusing the Confederation of killing its Ambassadors over this clone mess.  And your government would have done it too!”
“Explode?  What are you talking about?”
The twin leaned forward, “You are familiar with Panacea are you not?”
“Of course,” Nova replied slightly confused.  The Coalition-wide use of the modern medical miracle was widely known.
“It is used regularly here as well since the Confederation was once part of the Coalition.  It became a large part of our health regime.  However, what it amounts to is molecular-sized droids programmed to fight infection injected into oneself.   What if those droids were programmed to say, stop a heart, rewire a brain or explode?”
“What sort of evil mind would think up such a thing?”
The Pro-Consul toggled a switch and a figure appeared.  “He goes by the name of Korah and he seems to be the first clone force user from the program.”
“Ah, yes.  The Program that spawned all these criminal clones as you call them?  You should have told us what you were up to!”
The Pro-Consul’s eyes narrowed, “Tell me, Ambassador, just where is the Machine who created all your Hive Ships located and what government oversights have been imposed on it to avoid incidents such as what just occurred here?”
The Ambassador glowered at the Pro-Consul as she continued, “All governments have their secrets, Ambassador.  However, not all of them are for nefarious purposes.”
“But, I might explode?” Nova clearly did not believe it.
The Pro-Consul slumped back in her chair clearly exhausted and turned to her twin.  The clone raised her eyebrows and remarked, “Every now and then I am still blown away by the simplicity and brilliance of Korah’s plotting.”
She turned to the Cooperative Ambassador, “Very well, deary.   Here is the situation as it stands:
There has been a movement for quite a while to undermine the Confederation.  For a while, I was an unwitting part of that movement but as time went on, I began to see the hooks that were dug into us, by ‘us’ I mean my fellow clones, and saw that things were not as they seemed.  When I tried to eventually fight it, I found that I was quite powerless using conventional means and so I had to use unconventional means to fight.  In the end, I still could not prevent certain deaths but my actions did serve to shed light on the conspiracy.”
“And the Confederation could not handle it and so it spilled out into the Cooperative?” Nova guessed.
The clone smiled, “Oh no, dear, quite the opposite.  You see, much of our maneuvering involved positioning you, the Cooperative, into a position of power, not the Confederation.   We were the ones that pushed Joren Logan to attack the Empire which resulted into their destruction by the Empire.  It was the removal of Logan from his lofty position within the Coalition that allowed the Cooperative to gain prominence under the Regrad Administration. Especially moreso when coupled with the Confederation’s pull-out of the Coalition.”
She waved a hand, “But that is ancient history.  What you need to know is that certain members of our leadership feared what the crew of the Estralla would do if they found a haven within the Coalition.  When the ship was reported destroyed at the Battle of Vahaba, those leaders heaved a sigh of relief.  But when the citizens of the Cooperative suddenly put the surviving clones on the media, we realized that they had found their haven and had been living under your umbrella for a time.  So the question became, what were they doing with that time?  They were part of a group that already was interfering with the Cooperative and now they are in the Cooperative.  What was their plan?  What do they intend to do?  These questions are what the Confederation leadership feared.  But if they actively went after them, that would have made the Cooperative simply hold onto them that much more and they would have insinuated themselves further into the bosom of your society like a cancer.  To cut them out would have required too much destruction that we were willing to mete out so we decided to see about a political solution.  By informing you they were criminals escaping incarceration, it was hoped that the Cooperative would just hand them back and we would have stopped them with the law rather than the blaster.”
“Then why did you attack the facility they were in?” Nova asked.
“We didn’t.  At least the government did not,” the Pro-Consul interjected, “Which means Korah has military assets under his control.  You see, our government could not really use the military option because our own citizens, while they trust their government, were confused by the Cooperative media regarding the clones and would not really have backed a decision by us, their leaders, for the use of force in solving the problem.  At least they would not have until today.  With the attack by the Hive Ship, I think public opinion regarding the Cooperative just soured.  Remember, the Sojourn publicly lambasted the Confederation before leaving the union to form their own Collective.  And now, a member of that ‘Collective’ has attacked us.  An argument could be made that deranged synthoids are to blame but the fact of the matter is, there is a darksider among us who has an agenda as well as darksiders who are backing him up.”
“Then I need to contact my government and let them know.  They will arrest the clones and…”
“It is too late for that,” the clone remarked.  “First off, the Confederation Defense Force in orbit will not lift the blackout for a Cooperative Ambassador to contact their government especially in the wake of what looks like a Cooperative attack.  Genon is cut off from the rest of the Confederation right now.  The government has been suspended until we can sort out this mess.   Admiral Lucerne has emergency powers to wield them as he sees fit and according to his perspective, the Contegorian Confederation has been attacked by two powers, the Cooperative and an alien force we think may be linked to the Cree’Ar.”
“The Cree’Ar are attacking you!?”
“It is not quite the siege of Coruscant but, yes, they are attacking us.  With our forces on the Reaver border, on alert because of Korah and now to what seems to be Cooperative attacks, we are hard-pressed to respond decisively.”
66  10:13pm 15/03/16        
Kneel Before Zod!
“Who is Lorna Starfall? I don't know, you don't know, and whether she's willing to admit it or not, she doesn't know either.”
Lars raised an eyebrow, “Do any of us know really who we are?”
Doc Sammry smiled laying a hand on the agent’s shoulder.  “I did not mean to have my question pull such existential thoughts from you.  And you are correct about us not knowing her or perhaps even she knowing herself.  It also seems that you and that other Jedi are taking each side of the credit when it comes to her.  She is either evil and unredeemable or she is misunderstood and can be rehabilitated.  But the point I was trying to make is that we have been wrapped up with Lorna Starfall that we seemed to have failed to also realize that no matter her force ability, no matter what her name is now, she is also Commodore Valeska.  She is a clone so she has been imprinted with Valeska’s memories, experiences and talents.  Now I am not going to begin to try to understand how someone with such baggage can also come to terms with suddenly have force abilities thrust in their laps but I would think that while the force influence can manipulate a person despite their memories or experiences, they would not necessarily give a person talent.”
“What does that mean?” Captain Trajan asked in confusion.
“The force can’t make a monkey fly an X-wing,” Lars chimed in helpfully.
“What does that have to do with..?”
“Commodore Valeska must be on a variety of government’s watch lists, no?  As either a worthy adversary or ally, she is one of Admiral Lucern’s right hands and is a very capable person in her own right is she not?  All of that…talent…or capability just does not go away because we call this person by another name or give her the force, does it?”
“What is your point?” demanded Timothy.
“Only, if we cannot find out from her directly what side of the coin she falls on, evil or good, because in so doing we could accidentally kill her, perhaps we should focus on the victims instead,” Sammry concluded.
The Cooperative man growled, “They were a part of my team!  Why worry about her at all?  She is a murderer!”
“Maybe you are right,” Major Lars said softly.  “Maybe she went crazy and killed your people.  Maybe all the clones are crazy and the idea of sane force user clones is a myth.  Maybe they are exploding accidentally?  Maybe the Confederation really does want to start a war with us under the shadow of this Cree’Ar invasion of the galaxy?  Maybe we are all hypocrites ready to take on the Confederation in protection of these poor crazy clones except when they kill one of ours.  Then it’s game over!  Line the poor bastards up and shoot them!  Maybe the psyche evaluators for Lorna Starfall are underpaid losers who can’t pick a crazy person out of a lineup to save their lives?  Maybe High Command doesn’t know their backsides from a hole in the ground in dreaming her up for your team in the first place?”
“Lars,” the Captain warned as the Cooperative man was getting redder.
“Or, maybe, High Command does know their stuff and, based on an evaluation by people who also know their stuff, decided to put Lorna on your team.  Maybe the clones do not automatically go crazy just because and there is an outside influence in their brains causing this?  Maybe her killing of those people on your team was actually done for a reason?  But whether that reason or not can be justified is another matter.  But we will not be able to answer that unless we look at the victims.”
“And you think she could be justified in killing my people?”
“Could be?  Maybe.  I do not know your people but if she could slip past well trained evaluators, I doubt she would be the only one who could.  Maybe she killed them for nefarious purposes since your team was knocked out of being able to be deployed and, if so, then we have a third player, someone or something, acting against us.  It couldn’t be the Confederation since they wanted the clones back from day one when they learned about them.  Or maybe she killed those members of your team because they were agents of another and posed a danger to you or the government?”
“She could have told us,” Trajan remarked when the Doc tapped his temple.
“Not if there was something inside there preventing her from doing that.  From what we have seen with these clones, if they are agents in the service some someone else, they are being used rather carelessly.”
“It does seem that way, yes.”
Sopek finally broke into the conversation, “So you plan to use victimology to analyze the behavior in order to determine the motivations behind the killer and hopefully undermine said 3rd party should there be one?  I wonder if they will need representation after this!”
67  9:49pm 18/03/16        
Kneel Before Zod!
The Battle for Kashan
A fog horn sound cracked the air in the distance.   It seemed at certain intervals, a deep sound emanated from the invader.
Matthew Lucerne could see with his naked eye the approaching Orb vessel.  It was as if it was constantly emerging from a dust storm as the pulverizing effect of whatever weapon it was using kicked up tons of particulate matter of what was once earth, bone and steel.  He had never seen anything quite like it and yet, the Orb had a very specific and very constant range of destruction that only moved as the alien vessel moved. 
Confederation military intelligence had since identified the range and found that as long as they stayed outside that range, man and materials could not be touched.   The information helped immensely with evacuation procedures as citizens scattered from the ever advancing range.
The Lucerne Patriarch wondered briefly why the other Orbs did not also descend to cut off the retreating people since with only two ships in orbit, an effective blockade was impossible. 
As long as they stayed ahead of the ships they were safe.
Some ships had broken down in their flight and had been stuck in orbit.  The Military Corps of Engineers had valiantly rescued most from the doomed vessels but they could not get them all and as soon as one of the enemy ships came into range, nothing survived the pulverizing effect of their exotic weaponry.
The approaching vessel was on a direct course for the Lucerne mansion.   As he looked down at the grounds below the balcony, he saw his people working frantically.
His Projects Manager approached from behind.
“How many fighters were you able to find?” Lucerne asked without turning around.
“Ten working models,” Ren replied.  “Will it be enough?”
Matthew closed his eyes pushing the bleakness away.  “We have no other option.”
The crescendo was coming as Krel monitored the building up of energy displayed by the Arc.  What was once merely background accompaniment was slowly growing as if the soft pounding of drums were ever so slightly increasing in volume and power and range.
The Arc told him that the native people in his path were refusing to flee working feverishly to accomplish a form of response.  A negating response to be sure but the amount of effort being made before the servant of the Cree’Ar drew some sort of appreciative acknowledgement even if such effort would ultimately prove futile.
When the appointed time was reached, the “crescendo” would greatly expand the radius of the weapon catching many unawares and wiping from existence the mansion in the distance.
The final movement would reverberate among those witnessing the stirring symphony that would settle in their collective consciousness for generations to come.
“Resonance.” He murmured.
The Syagani had entered the gravitational sphere of Kashan and its limited sensor network told a grim story.  The damaged warship had returned from New Oceanus having left most of the injured and a garrison of support personnel until help from the government arrived.  Jenessarai Portland had taken a shuttle to Genon to report to the Council while Jax had gone back to Kashan with Captain Garrett and his crew of volunteers. 
The screens faded in and out of working condition but when they did work, they showed a mass exodus of civilian ships fleeing the planet in a peculiar, almost circuitous route the “why” of which they could not determine in their state.
“Tough ship,” murmured Jax, still marveling at the fact it was space-worthy after a quarter of its forward bulk had been sheared off.  The engineering and repair crews worked non-stop using everything up to portable shield generators to protect the exposed portions of the ship from the micro-impacts inherent with space travel.  It made what would be a relatively quick in-system trip extremely slow going.
“We have to get Command to review the damage control capabilities of the cruisers.  There’s no way we are in any shape to fight anything!” a crewman complained.
Garrett chose to ignore the comment seeing as the man had been up the past 48 hours and had earned himself a good grumble.  He was more focused on what the enemy was doing to his planet besides.
“We cannot enter orbit, sir.  Those bastards will get us for sure.  We do not have the speed to outrun them and it looks like, if I am interpreting these readings correctly, that avoiding the enemy range of fire is the strategy in play.”
Garrett turned to his exec and nodded at the observation.  “Evacuating a planet is a logistical impossibility.  They will have to maximize whatever starships are on hand and some of those vessels," he pointed to the sensor readings, "are not even ships but cargo barges.  They must be hauling either people or support and supplies for over-crowded ships.”
“They are keeping the ships close enough to be of some use, if needed, rather than making a slow trek to New Oceanus or other planet in the solar system or leaving entirely by jumping to hyperspace…”  Jax offered.
“Maybe they can’t make the jump to hyperspace.  Maybe the ships are cannibalized internally to allow for more occupants?” the Exec offered.

"You'd take apart a hyperdrive for that?" Jax asked in confusion.

"No, but then again, a system taxed beyond its spec will spill into other systems.  And maybe the jump drives are being used to power other systems..."

"Jumping through hyperspace is not like taking a transport to go shopping," the Captain interrupted.  "Given the nature of the enemy's weapon, the damage below could be much worse.  It seems they are here for a purpose and Command has recognized that fact.  So they are not trying to evacuate the entire world just yet, just getting the population centers out of the way of that vessel.”  He tried to have the sensor scopes focus on the alien ship within the atmosphere which was hard due to all the debris and dust surrounding it.  “The destruction seems limited in range around the ship so it is possible this is their version of a surgical attack rather than overwhelming seeing that the other two ships are remaining in orbit circling.”
Mining.   That is what Kashan was known for and it very well may be the thing that saves them. 
Or we will die trying..
Matthew Lucerne was not prone to such despondent thoughts normally but he could not help but feel an growing sense of guilt at the hundreds, maybe thousands of workers below.  Already, he had ordered fired up the heavy equipment in the mines hoping the appropriate adjustments could be made in time and results sent to the front before that damned ship destroyed everything he had created.
It was an emotional response for a Kashan as they were typically a more stoic and analytical people.  He could have fallen back and moved out of this monster’s way leaving his estate to the weaponry of the invader.  It was, after all, just a thing.  But he stayed and as a result, his people stayed and volunteered for the last ditch effort to save House Lucerne.
But he could not move.  Not now.  Not ever!
He’d done it once before in the past with Alderraan.  It was a sense of destruction and loss that pervaded his soul that he could only combat by the slow rebuilding of his life, his family’s life, and that of his people and culture.
He was not about to watch it all be destroyed again.  Not while he still drew breath and could do something about it.
“Send our data to the Military Command.  If we fail or if we are too late to implement our plan, perhaps we can give others a chance to try.”
His personal aide left to do his bidding while the dismantling and destruction of the Kashan Air Defense Corps fighters was carried out below.  All except the ten …taken mostly from private collectors.  The fighters would not be used against the Orb vessel approaching but would need to be used against the remaining two.  If his plan worked and they stopped the ship on approach, he figured the other two would descend quickly to complete the job.  They could not afford not to.  If his plan worked, then their lives were in the hands of ten pilots.
“Any word from the mine?”
Ren looked over at his pad, “a minimal amount has been produced and is being shipped in.  Whether or not they can get here in time is another matter.”
“Out of our hands…” Lucerne replied softly.
“Sir!   I have a contact!  It’s the Syagani!”
Mathew’s eyes widened.   “It’s a Seraph!  Ask their compliment of S9’s!  Fast!”
“Captain Garrett, we are getting a signal from House Lucerne.  They are requesting our compliment of operational Deathsabers and Deathsabers only.”
The Captain frowned at the question but shrugged.  “We have 23 operational fighters.”
He walked over to the Comm. Officer.  “I take it they have a plan?”
“They have twenty-three S9’s!”
“Thank the maker!” Lucerne answered suddenly feeling the adrenaline flowing through him.
“Send them these instructions…”
“They want us to what?”
“Catch something they are throwing our way.”
“With a mass driver?”  Garrett ran his hand through his hair.  “Are the tractor beams working?”
The Chief Engineer swore inside.  “If we shut down everything but the damned life support." He growled.  “Maybe if we stood outside and caught it..”
The Captain’s head snapped up and he turned to Jax, “Can you do that?”
“Do what?” the Jensaarai did not like where this was going.
“Go outside and catch it!”
“Catch what?”
“Several tons of metal hurling toward you at a terminal velocity…”
“I…. I don’t know..”
“Exec, get him suited up and outside.  We are going to need all the help we can get!   Launch the Sabers and have them ready for reinforcements dirtside.  Have the pit crews suited up and also in space.  They are going to have to finish fighter prep in the black.  Chief, prepare to shunt main power to the tractor beams.  Button up people, it’s going to get cold in here.”
“Why I joined the Navy..” someone quipped as the lights started to dim.
“It moved!” a voice accused as Matthew Lucerne oversaw the final preparations on a monster of their own.   Frantic people were rushing here and there slapping multiple redundant backups in case of power overload or other obstacles in the behavior of energy that their scared imaginations could come up with since there was no time to test.
“It fucking moved!”  Everyone knew what that meant as the tech glared at his sensor equipment as if it had grown weapons and shot down a basket-full of sad-eyed pets.
Since the enemy was already moving towards them, the only thing of note to "move" would have been the parameter of the exotic weaponry that had laid waste to everything in range.   There was beauty in its consistency but, now, the weapons radius had expanded.   And shrunk.  And, worse still, expanded again farther out increasing the former radius.  And then shrunk.   A movement that was starting to increase in pace.
“Give me new figures,” Matthew’s voice boomed over the commotion.
“At this rate of expansion, we will not be able to re-position the driver after we fire at the Syagani.”
“Damn!  We need time!”
But where to pull it from?
He only had one massive, custom (and hastily)-built mass-driver and right now it was pointed out into space.  Every weapon, including mass drivers, had failed against the spherical shield/pulverizer surrounding these alien ships.   Energy dissipated and physical objects were ground to dust upon reaching the barrier threshold.  Even starships on suicide runs had no effect other than to waste lives.
Except, even such actions gave Matthew information as Ren, his Projects Manager, made a startling discovery in the wake of all the destruction.
Pieces and bits and plating all survived whatever this exotic weapon was doing to all that matter and energy that passed within range. 
And this gave Lucerne the idea.   The Kashan’s oldest weapon had been useless because the materials of what was launched at the enemy were being pulverized to dust.  But, if mass-drivers or railguns were using Neuranium ammunition, perhaps that would be enough to send these invaders to hell.
The ammunition would not be pretty.  It would not be refined and up to military specifications but, in all reality, it did not have to be.  It just had to be the right size to be launched with enough velocity to penetrate and survive the weaponry of the enemy and actually strike their ships.
If the death of the Nova proved anything, it was that the enemy vessel was extremely fragile structurally.  If only one could get past the weapon.
Lucerne would not let the deaths of brave men and women of the Navy lay in vain.  He could not.
The problem was logistics.
And the nature of the Neuranium.
Neuranium was used as a stealth feature on their fighter craft but they had no tools on hand to actually cut into or break down the Neuranium into railgun ammunition.  But the mines did.  So the mines would be responsible for making as much fighter ammunition as possible.  And to be honest, the mines were already out of time since the ammunition had to be transported to the Estate where he would have had to figure out another logistical problem.  The S9’s were the only fighter on hand with railgun weaponry so they were exempt from the being pulled apart for the Neuranium in their hulls.  Unfortunately, there were only ten fighters to be found on the world.  To be fair, most still in active use were in the Navy as more modern fighters were becoming the backbone of planetary defense corps so he was glad he found ten in working condition.  The problem was scale.  The mines were making the fighter ammunition, as much as they could, but the railguns would go through it in seconds so the pilots had to make their shots count.  Matthew was banking on the neuranium shots making it past the enemy’s field of fire and striking the craft itself but the question was how much damage could those shots make before they ran out?
Someone had suggested sending the ten fighters to the mines to save time in transporting the ammunition and let the mines use the extra time to make that much more ammo but Lucerne had rejected the idea after some thought.  He could not pin-point it at the time but his gut told him “no” and he was glad he listened.
For when the allotted time was up, the mine found they could not transport the ammunition by shuttle.  It was too heavy.  If the fighters had been loaded up at the mine, they would not have had the thrust power to remain airborne within the planet’s gravity well.  It had to come by the old-fashioned railcar system that had been relegated to army control instead of being dismantled in favor of the civilian mag-rail system.  So the ammo was on its way on solid track that ran right to his enormous mass-driver.   He had briefly thought to put the mass driver on the solid track so that it could be moved but the reality was he was asking too much and the gun was shaping up to be powerful enough to knock it off the rails anyway once fired.  So a stationary placement was decided to give him the opportunity for more than one shot if the enemy allowed.
He wanted to fire it first at the approaching enemy ship but the problem was, again, one of logistics.  If he managed to damage or, better yet, destroy the oncoming warship, the other two were sure to descend on him to destroy the driver and finish the job of the first.  The Deathsabers were the only protection but they could not get airborne loaded down with the neuranium ammunition.   The timely arrival of the Syagani supplied the best chance of success.  He would send his ten Deathsabers to the Syagani and his first shot from the colossal mass-driver would be to send the fighter ammunition into space.  They could load it and fly it in vacuum where the neuranium's weight had no hold.   The ammunition was finite but with the Syagani’s twenty-three more deathsabers, the ammunition could be spread around giving them a wider field of fire. 
But his first shot would be out into space and with the approaching enemy’s radius of destruction now increasing, it seemed there would not be enough time to re-position his driver and load it for a second shot.  And that was why they were taking apart as many fighters as they could below and fusing the neuranium parts together using a lattice-work of ultrachome bonds.  They were hoping the ultrachrome would hold the neuranium together during the supercharged firing of the driver.
The enemy would not give them a second shot but everyone was working as if they’d get a second and a third and possibly a fourth.
It was a spirit to admire.
It was Kashan.
“He does not flee,” observed Varro Kai from the bridge of his warship, hidden by the gravity eddies of a half-open wormhole.
“Then he will die!” snapped the old man in the mechanical chair.  “I’ve waited a long time to witness the death of the House Triumvirate.”
The old man licked his lips and Kai was reminded of a carrion eater lapping up the remains of the a dead carcass.  The bottom feeders snapped their jaws in glee at the thought of feasting on the great and the Cree’Ar almost felt sorry for the founder of House Lucerne.   For someone to hate him as much as the decrepit old man before him did, this Lucerne must have accomplished great deeds indeed.  It was always that way with the weaker.  But it was unlikely that this Lucerne would bow to the Dominion and so, that courageous, unbending strength would be broken.
The Sarcossans were slow and methodical in their approach to things and while Varro grew impatient, he could not discount their effectiveness.  The Cree’Ar had first tried to send legions of Armorlin via their wormholes straight into the bowels of their orb ships to take them from within.  However, that weapon-field of theirs had disrupted the wormhole and thousands of armorlin had lost their lives.  It had cost the Dominion an entire subservient race to finally bring the Sarcossans into the fold.
Quantity was a quality all its own, after all.
But the ships were extremely rare and the Dominion only had four in this galaxy, brought at great expense since the ships were not originally intended to leave their native solar system.  The loss of the one ship was a blow to Varro Kai and he vowed to make the old man’s tribute (once he held the planet of Kashan) extreme.  For he was once a Task Master and he would personally ensure proper compensation.
The climax was at hand.
Krel had felt the other two start their buildup as the orbit of the planet was scoured.  Satellites, stations all artifices wiped away …even the decades of refuse left to float in orbit were turned to space particulate.
The other Orbs had settled in space over the locations of the other two Houses that were designated to be destroyed.  While Krel descended keeping the eyes of the natives on him, the others conserved their power and would only need to descend into the atmosphere to release the pent up energies and level the everything beneath their hulls…
He regretted the loss of the fourth orb as it would mar the Song that would forever mark this Act.  A marred Song would not linger long in memory but such was life.  Some events were recorded in Songs for the Ages whereas others were forgotten as soon as the sun set.
But the Sarcossan would remember.
“You're late,” Matthew Lucerne barked coldly to the Engineer of the train.
“The mine loaded the leftover stock before we took off,” Operator replied thumbing back.
“We have no time!” the older man shouted, knowing the stress was tearing him apart, “We cannot use the larger pieces for the fighters!  It won’t fit their railguns!” he explained even as he frantically motioned his tired people to start loading the fighter ammo containers into the platform for the mass driver.
“It will fit mine,” came a stern, strong voice from behind and Lucerne turned to face the craggy visage of General Hans Trutzig.  At first, the implication did not hit him as his mind was tired at they were at the end of their endurance.
When it started to filter through his tired mind, he glanced down the length of the railcars and saw Ares Class Heavy Tanks being unloaded.
“During transit, we used the time to load the larger pieces into our armor and our 150mms are a bit larger your Deathsabers,” Trutzig explained a bit smugly.
“I…I did not even think…” the Lucerne patriarch felt deflated.  “Damn!  I am a fool!”
“I would say no one thinks about the Army until it arrives to save your ass but, the truth is, we have not been giving a very good account of ourselves.” The General placated.  “I lost hundreds of my boys to that monster and we did not even scratch it!  So don’t go all self-pity on me.  There’s enough of that to go around.  You’ve given us a shot and I am going to give you what you need.”
“A hot bath with a young nubile woman?” Lucerne asked.
“Ha! You must be tired, my friend,” Trutzig barked out a laugh at the out-of-character comment.
He activated his communicator.  “56th Audacia, let’s give this man TIME.  Prepare to roll out!”
Matthew watched as the wiley Contegorian General nimbly climbed up the side of his tank.
“See you in hell, Matt!” he called before disappearing.
“Godspeed, Hans.” He whispered to the squadron of tanks that had taken off towards the towering orb that had reached the edge of the Lucerne Estate lands.
“Ok people, now listen up!  These slugs are smaller than our standard shells but they are solid and damned heavier.  The autoloaders may have issues so you will need to override and keep an eye out to help manually load if you have too.  These things are heavy pieces of crap which is why I ordered the loaders to wear exo-skeleton.   Also, these slugs may play havoc with the guns themselves since it will require more power to launch these bastards so we have to get as close as we can to the son of a bitch!  Send all power to the guns if you have too as we may only get a couple of shots!
"Stagger the formation!
"Don’t bunch up.  We don’t want one shot of that bastard taking us all out!
"Audentes Fortuna Iuvat!
 "Trutzig out!
“They fired it!  They actually fired it!” the sensor operator on the Syagani shouted in excitement.
“Activate tractor beams!  Slow it up, slow it up!” Garrett ordered and the ship immediately went dark as the ship groaned under the throbbing hum of power being relayed to the projector portals.
Jensaarai Jax was scared.  He had never, in all his training, done EVA duty.  He never even trained to operate in space and he shivered at the thought of cold vacuum just outside even though he could not feel it.
His speaker crackled with the excited shout that Kashan had just fired a mass-driver of neuranium ammunition at them.   The container would have to be fired at extreme power so the package could escape the gravity well of the planet and hurl through space to get to them quickly.  But the mass would have built up quite a bit of momentum by the time it reached the Syagani so they had to slow it down and quickly.  Prime work for tractor beams.  Unfortunately, the Syagani was not at its best.
Jax calmed his breathing to overcome the natural fear that came from staring into the abyss of black.  One felt so insignificant when faced with the grandeur of celestial emptiness which warred with the very significant action it was hoped he could help with.  Lives depended on it!
He stretched out with the force and felt a tremor at the life being extinguished on Kashan.   Then emptiness and then..
It was moving almost too fast for conscious thought.
Then a tractor beam caught it …
..and let go..
Onward it came but slower.
It was massive!
“Tractor Beams on!”
“Caught it!  Hells, yea---“
“Shit, I lost it!  It’s momentum snapped the tractor hold!”
“I can’t find it!”
Varro Kai’s eyes narrowed at the activity taking place in space.  He had discounted the damaged Confederation cruiser as irrelevant even as they tried floating their starfighters out into space along with support personnel.  It seemed a desperate move for a  desperate people that would ultimately prove futile.
Even from the planet surface came a human handful of Starfighters to rendezvous with the damaged cruiser.
But then the planet fired something in their direction which was curious.
For hours they observed these people on the planet frantically call into existence a rather large weapon.  A weapon defiantly placed in the path of the approaching Sarcossan Orb.  So why would they then point their weapon away from the Orb and fire it at their own ship in space?  If it was a test-firing they needed, why not shoot that also at the Orb?  What was so important to these people that they would waste such a shot?
And then a remarkable thing happened.
Jax tried.  He really tried to will the container to stop but he just was not strong enough.  Not like Adrian.  He could feel the massive structure bearing down on him and we swelled up with a feeling of failure.
And then,
He opened his eyes at the container holding position several feet away, dwarfing him, spinning end over end.
“Got it!” the Exec exclaimed and Garrett breathed a sigh of relief. 
“That Jensaarai is one lucky bastard.  Almost went splat!”
All of the Syagani’s remaining tractor beams had caught the container and stopped its momentum directing the force into spinning the container rather than allowing it more distance.   The “feather-touch” modulating beams slowed the spinning rapidly until all motion was arrested.
And then the support personnel swarmed over the container breaking the seals revealing the pieces of solid shot within.
“Get all the fighters loaded up!”
“A people should know when they are defeated!” hissed Lohr as the hidden Cree’Ar watched the activity of the Confederation warship.
“What are they doing?” the old Confederation man asked rhetorically.
Varro Kai turned his attention back to the planet-side estate.  They had wasted their one shot and they were now in range of the Orb.
“Load!  Load!  Load!”  the crew chief shouted as the mass-driver was angled back towards the approaching enemy.
A mix of crane operations, repuslor operators and good old-fashioned brute strength was used to move the ungainly mass of neuranium parts held together by large bands of ultrachrome.
Krel waved a hand over the Arc and the view expanded revealing a rather large barrel of a weapon being rotated and lowered to face his Songship.  It was admirable if futile for the weapon was now in range of the song.
A flash on the Arc showed the power was ready to be released and he moved his hand towards it.
“That’s no ship, that’s a friggin MOON!!” a voice burst over the battlenet!
Trutzig ignored the unprofessional comment especially since the damned scoundrel was right!   The dust cloud kicked up from the invisible pulverizing force surrounding the enemy ship gave them an idea as to where the threshold was.
“FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!!” he barked out in command and the Audacia 56th Ares answered as one.
Twenty neuranium solid shots crossed the distance within the pulverizing field and penetrated the orb’s hull.
Krel’s mind first noticed that the power failed to release before he felt the surge of pain from where his hand used to be.   The vessel itself was still intact even as the enemy was firing another volley into his craft.
How they were penetrating the field of song was beyond him but it was too little too late.
Even as his skin closed around the missing limb, he realized the Arc was still functioning and the flashing light was still signaling purpose.   He turned and his other hand moved across the electrical display.
The energy released.
“It worked! It bloody worked!”  
It was enough to move a Contegorian to find religion.
“We know they penetrate!  Target the spires!” the General ordered.
A second volley of twenty 150mm railguns fired obliterating scores of the bulbs on stems protruding from the tear-shaped vessel.
A deep, resonating fog horn escaped the confines of the energy field shattering all comms.
“They’ve penetrated, Sir!” 
Matthew Lucerne grinned like a madman as they witnessed Trutzig’s forces open fire on the enemy.
“They delayed the shot!”
Their equipment had detected the pattern of exponentially contracting and protracting ranges and according to estimates, they were already within the enemy weapon’s envelope.  The life-ending blast should have occurred already.
“It seems the General has bought us a few more seconds!”
“Mass-driver primed!”
A sound split the air…
Matthew Lucerne did not realize he had closed his eyes until he opened them.
The weapon fired while they were well within its envelope but it was as if great chunks of the spherical weapon were removed; like slices of a three dimensional spherical pie of varying sizes appeared leaving everything within their area untouched.
Huge tracks of the estate, trees, grass, buildings throughout simply ceased to exist and in their stead a cloud of dust and stripped top soil.   It seemed the destruction of the protruding bulbous objects made inoperable huge swathes of the weapons destructive capability sparing the Lucerne mansion behind him and, more importantly, the colossal mass-driver in front of him.
The enemy was no longer visible as clouds of dust settled over them like a thick fog.
The 56th Audacia had gone silent hardening his heart.
Krel was amazed.   These natives had come close to destroying, in combat, a Songship.  A feat that had not occurred since the Cree’Ar had come to their world all those Ages ago.
Too close.
The Arc’s view was fractured as multiple harmonic instruments had been destroyed by the ground vessels seconds before the climax.
All he saw was dust as it should be.  As if illustrating the passing of a celebration.
These were truly an incredible people and they were fortunate that only three sites were chosen to hear the Song of War.
The Arc crackled and Krel’s visage indicated concern.  For his fellow Songships had not followed through with their accompaniment.  In fact, they were out of position and moving towards him…. Him!
He did not quite understand for such an action could only mean a change in Conductorship and a rewriting of the composition; another first since their meeting of the Dominion.
But that could only mean…
The Arc crackled again as the smoke-like dust cleared revealing the structure he was sent to destroy.  Revealing the barrel of a weapon pointed at his ship.
A hand shot out..
“Fire,” Lucerne ordered and the energies that were held in place were suddenly released allowing them to grab the object and hurl it towards the enemy ship faster than the eye could track.
The Sarcossan orb started to release its weapon again catching the projectile from the mass-driver.   The ultrachrome binding the neuranium together shattered scattering them.  One massive strike was turned into many large strikes penetrating the ship killing the Conductor instantly.
Varro Kai clenched his fist as the Sarcossan Orb on the planet succumbed to the accumulated damage until it finally exploded.
That explained why the other two ships had moved out of position.  They sensed the damage to the Orb below.
The loss of two Sarcossan Orbs was enormous and even the thought of the other two taking their revenge held no relief to him.
And then, the thirty-three Confederation Deathsabers and one damaged Seraph moved towards the planet.
“They mean to engage,” he remarked in his language to the High Priest.
“Then they mean to die,” a harsh reply.
“All crewmen back aboard and the sabers are on their way, Captain!” 
“Move us after them.  I do not know what protection we can offer but I’ll be damned if we are going to just sit back and watch!”
Garrett turned to the Jax, “Are you alright?”
The Jensaarai grinned ruefully, “I am beginning to see why a Jedi does not need to crave excitement.  It sort of just follows you..”
The Captain laughed and slapped him on the back before turning to the Exec.
“How’s our weapon status?”
“Railguns should be ready at your command.”
“What?  What for?  We don’t…wait.  Do we?”  the Captain’s eyes lit up.
The Exec nodded, “Not all the solid shots fit into the fighter caliber so we kept all the rejected neuranium projectiles.   They are much, much smaller than our typical railgun rounds but the energy will still grab it and throw it like any other solid object.”
“Officer thinking, Exec.”
“I thought so, Captain.”
“Railguns ready at your command, Captain.”
Garrett could hardly contain himself, “Then by all means, fire!”
The Syagani split its railgun shots between the two Orbs before they could descend into the atmosphere.  Given the exact adherence to detail the Songships followed, the targeting computers were able to set a lock on the center of the spherical gaseous mass that hid the ships from view.  The only thing the targeting computers did not know was the exact orientation of the ships inside which was why they targeted dead center.
The projectiles crossed the distance of space passing even the S9 Deathsabers until they disappeared into the alien cloud.
“Keep firing until we run out,” Garret ordered and he felt his ship shake and vibrate as the railguns continued their onslaught until, quite suddenly, they stopped.
“Ammunition depleted, Captain.”
“Sir, look!”
The gas cloud seemed to slip away revealing a damaged tear-drop shaped vessel.  
“Fighters engaging!”
The Deathsaber pilots split their numbers and fell upon the alien ships with a vengeance gambling that the loss of the gaseous cloud cover also signaled the loss of the impenetrable weapon they had deployed.
It was a risky gamble and Garrett was not sure it was one he would have made in their place but pilots were a different breed entirely.   Cocky as all get out but their bravery was unquestionable.
Once they crossed the threshold unmolested, they switched to their conventional weaponry and started to open fire.
“Exec, let’s back them up.  Fire all turbolasers and quads.”
“With pleasure, Captain.”
Without their weapon envelope active, the Sarcossan Songships died quickly.
The Battle of Kashan had been won.
“I…  I don’t believe it,” the old man rasped out.
Four Sarcossan Orb ships destroyed.  The only four to be found in this galaxy.  A staggering loss.
And for what? 
Some old human to take a throne of a world he could not win with martial valor?
The Nexus signaled and he saw the hundreds of warships in the Dominion fleet, hidden behind his ship…waiting.
“You can still… “ the old man started to say but Varro Kai had had enough.   A small gesture from him and the Armorlin guards slaughtered the old man’s retainers.   The High Priest himself dispatched the old man with glee and looked to Kai with approval.
“Fool!” the Priest spat at the human body. 

Of course the Cree’Ar could still…    

That was not the point.  Seize the world today, seize the world tomorrow, it was of no matter.   The Kashan Gamble did not pay off but it had been a gamble to begin with.  A diversion while their local strength was marshaled. 
For their task was to obey and the High Lord Artanis had set before them a task.  Being a former Task Master, himself, he knew how important it was for obedience.
Still, there was a slight temptation to simply give the order and the Cree’Ar would fall upon the world with all their might.
He held the life of the world in his hand and it was a heady thought indeed.
All that stood in their way was a massively damaged Confederation cruiser with half its bow missing.
Why not?
But no.
His duty was to Artanis and, by extension, Borleas.  Not the trickster god, Ratkus.
“We depart,” he ordered and the High Priest set his shoulder back in relief.
He turned his back to the common viewer when the Nexus signaled an alarm and his board lit up with hundreds of contacts surrounding the planet.
“The Confederation Navy has arrived, Judicator Kai.”
If he had ordered an attack, the enemy would have been arriving at his flank and within his ranks, behind the shield ships.   There was a good chance the fleet would have been lost as well as his own life.
Trickster god, indeed.
He laughed as the hidden Dominion fleet left the Kashan system.
Admiral Corise Lucerne surveyed the damage to his homeworld as the shuttle descended.  Already rescue efforts were under way to retrieve people stranded in malfunctioning or overburdened ships in space or people buried under debris below.   General Trutzig had been located with his crew alive and well in a half buried Ares when the plateau he had been firing on collapsed.  Half his command had been lost but without his timely arrival, everything might have been lost.
He had had two plans of attack ready, one for the Cooperative and one for Kashan and he was not sure of the success of either.
But the Cooperative was the enemy he knew.
And conventional thought dictated one always sided with the enemy one knew.
It also dictated putting the fires out of one’s own house before turning your attention to one’s neighbors.
And above all else, a Kashan man was conventional man.
This post was edited by Omnae (7:55pm 21/03/16, 2 years ago)
68  8:36pm 01/05/16        
Is dead. Would rather not be.

Election Season

Senator Joron's office, how may I be of assistance?”

“I'd like to speak with the Senator, please.”

I'm sorry, sir, the Senator is unavailable. May I take a message?”

“He's expecting me; we have a scheduled call.”

Umm . . . I'm sorry, sir. You're not on the schedule. Now, if you'd like me to take a message, I have a few minutes before I need to finalize the Senator's notes for his meeting with the Prime Minister.”

“Oh good, then you didn't forget about me! This is Prime Minister Moon. Have I called early?”

Umm . . . uhh . . . Prime Minister? Oh, apologies sir! I'll inform Senator Joron right away!”

“Oh, there's no rush, miss; I understand things must be quite hectic . . . miss? Hello? Is anybody there?”

Minister Moon! How good to hear from you! Erek Joron here. How are things in the capital?”

“I'm sorry for the audio only, Senator -”

Please, call me Erek.”

“Hmm, alright, Erek. Call me, well, nobody seems to like 'Pro' very much, so call me whatever you feel comfortable with. But as I was saying: I'm sorry for the audio only, but we're performing another upgrade to the East-West HoloNet backbone in light of this Reaver business, and I don't want to tie up any emergency lines unless its for official state business.”

Oh? So what is it, Mooney; are you looking for my support in the upcoming election?”

“Actually, I'd like you to run against me.”

Bwaa haahaa ha! Yeah, no. That's not going to happen.”

“E-excuse me?”

Look, Mooney: not only do I already have more than I can handle out here in the East, but people like you. I'm not going to campaign against you just so you can feel good about winning. Good luck, though.”

“Hmph. You too, Erek. You too.”

* * *

Huh? Hello? Who is it?”

“I'm looking for Chief Ambassador Traan Shi; is he available?”

. . . Minister Moon? Is that you?

“Traan? I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you; you sound a little . . .”

Exhausted, yeah. I've been working on the Onyxian Reconciliation problem, and I think we're close to a breakthrough. But I'm sure that's not what you called about. How can I help you, Prime Minister?”

“I need you to run against me for Prime Minister, Traan.”

Oh, no, I couldn't possibly do that.”

“The Coalition needs choices, Traan. We aren't an empire, and I'm not Regrad's successor.”

I have no doubt about that, Minister Moon, but I'm not your man. My duties are here, with the Cooperative. I know that, and I think you do too.”

* * *

“Elder Ruto?”


“Oh, I'm sorry; Could I speak with Elder Ruto, please?”

I'm not doing it.”

“Uhh . . . what? I'm sorry; I'm confused.”

Traan's already warned me about you, Prime Minister. I'm not leaving the Ryn fleet. Not for you, not even for the Coalition. Move along.”

* * *

He'd tried everything. He'd asked everyone: Refugee Commissioner Shan, Resettlement Commissioner Brand, Captain Krin here in the West, Admiral Panacka, even Executor Smarts, but no one would take him up on his request. There were others running, of course: disgraced former planetary governors, fringe political party heads, that sort of thing; but no one with any legitimacy. It looked like Interim Prime Minister Pro Moon was about to be elected full and proper Prime Minister of the Galactic Coalition by popular vote, simply because there was no one else to vote for.

That couldn't be allowed. It just wasn't right. And fortunately, the HoloNet upgrades along the relevant stretch of the network had been completed ahead of schedule, so Moon could make this last and most important pitch face-to-virtual-face.

“Hello, old friend.”

“Prime Minister,” came the reserved response.

“Thank you for taking my call.”

The creature, cloaked in a dark cowl and discernible by only the dimmest of lighting, shuffled in place uncomfortably. “I'm certain it's important, as neither of us have time to waste these days.”

“I don't like how I've come to find myself in this position. I didn't earn the Prime Ministership; I had it given to me, and now I'm weeks away from having this farce of democracy confirmed by a very real vote, because the only man who has earned that office is hiding away in some cave at the edge of the galaxy. The Coalition needs you, Regrad.”

He sighed heavily, his whole body seeming to deflate, or perhaps compress, under the burden of that simple declaration. The Azguard leader pulled back his cowl and the dim light caught his eyes, pure-white twinkles bursting to life amidst the dull haze of the holofield. “When the time comes, I will stand proudly in the light of day, with all the people of this Coalition that I helped to forge staring back at me, and I will do as my heart and my mind compel me; I will entreat them to stand with you as you lead this Coalition into its uncertain future.

“You are a good man, Pro Moon, brave, and righteous, and honorable, and wise, and for all of your burdens, you do what is right for the people who have sworn to follow you. That is something I can no longer do; that is something that my burdens will not allow me to do. I walk a different path now, no more honorable or glorious, but equally necessary.” He pulled the cowl back over his face, those twinkling orbs vanishing once more into the dark, and he took a step away. “I am the High Lord of Azguard, leader in war of a people chosen by the Light of the Force, and I will remain so until it is done with me.”

The line closed, and Pro Moon was left, once more, alone in an office too big for him.
69  5:17pm 15/05/16        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
It's Time for an Intervention

“What do you think you're doing!?”

“P-Prime Minister?” Councilor Tik was confused, looking to his compatriots for clarification.

“Reviewing first-strike options for war with the Confederation,” Admiral Neychev said, stepping back a pace from the tactical holotable and regarding the unannounced newcomer.

“Well stop that!” Pro Moon demanded, shooing at the holograms with a hand.

His rapid pace had carried him from the guarded entrance to the cluster of officers in only that short span of time, and he was taking a moment to consider who all was present when Admiral Neychev shot back: “This is an internal Cooperative matter, Prime Minister. You don't have jurisdiction here.”

“Bah! The hells I don't!”

“We have every right to respond to an attack on our sovereignty by a foreign power,” Neychev declared.

“Yeah, sure, whatever, but too bad for you that the Confederation isn't the one that attacked you.” Pro Moon smiled broadly at the grizzled Onyxian admiral, a smile that only grew broader still when he saw the other man catch up.

“You know about the conspiracy?” Neychev asked.

“Alleged conspiracy,” Councilor Tik clarified.

“How did you find out?” Neychev asked, growing earnest.

“Guardian Prime agreed that I shouldn't inform anyone,” Sojourn Ar'dak said, walking around the table and past her fellow Cooperative officials to stand nearer Pro Moon. “The conspirators have displayed an ability to influence both human and Shard minds.”

“Captain Titanite was a special case,” Tik said, an edge to his tone.

“Regardless,” Pro Moon cut in, “every precaution must be taken if we are to succeed.”

“Succeed at what?” Neychev asked.

Emergency alarms sounded and Tik turned his attention to the holotable, the device already gushing preliminary data on the security breach.

Pro Moon took a couple of steps forward and patted Tik on his metal shoulder. “At stopping your mad war before it starts.”

* * *

The RDS Uniform reverted to realspace in the shadow of the Cooperative's capital, traffic control and military defense warnings pinging the comm station before the chief navigator could even announce: “Reversion successful”.

Captain Dolan, stern-faced and straight-backed as ever, simply stared at the dark orb of the world's night side as he counted up the seconds.

. . . Nine . . . Ten. “Open a channel . . . To Varn planetary traffic control and defense command: I am Captain Dolan of the Coalition Research and Development Ship Uniform, here by order of Prime Minister Pro Moon to render urgent medical care to foreign detainees in accordance with international law and Coalition mandates for the care and treatment of prisoners of war. You are hereby ordered to maintain a quarantine distance of no less than fifteen kilometers radius from this vessel, and are not to interfere with the deployment of medical transports to the Coalition Refugee Evacuation and Relief Service facility on-planet. Any additional coordination will be with the Praetorian Guard forces currently administrating that facility. You need not concern yourselves with the details.”

The line closed, and the captain allowed himself a deep exhale, the stress of the moment slipping quietly away. “I sure hope the Prime Minister knows what he's doing.”

* * *

“What do you mean, we can't leave! I'm the Commander of the Cooperative Armed Forces; you can't tell me what I can and can't do in my own HQ!”

“We believe that the particularities of the Sojourn's history render my people immune to this form of coercion,” Ar'dak tried to explain, mostly keeping her voice even.

“And I'm clean,” Pro Moon announced, tapping a finger to his oversized head. “I had a deep-tissue medical scan of the noggin just a few weeks ago – nothing to worry about; just a brain freeze from too much ice cream, it turned out . . .” he wasn't helping the situation “. . . but, I'm evil-implant free. That's the important part.”

“That leave the two of you with knowledge of the Prime Minister's intervention, and no safe means of ascertaining whether or not you have been compromised,” Ar'dak explained.

“I won't stand for this,” Neychev declared, then “I won't stand for this!” He shook his balled fist at the pair of White Knights now standing guard at the room's only door.

“I assume you have a plan?”Tik asked, more reserved.

Pro Moon clasped his hands together, offering a thin smile. “Yes! Well, for the Admiral, anyway; we're still not sure how they could have compromised crystalline, electromagnetically powered . . . entities.” He frowned, an uncomfortable moment passing before he sprang back to action. “You see, the lab boys have been working on a new generation of Panacea, completely overhauled specifically to target invasive, metallic . . . aggressive . . .” He was having trouble finding the right words to describe what he was talking about without actually naming it.

“Reaverproof Panacea, yeah, no surprise there,” Neychev spoke up, a little calmer but no less grumpy.

“Well, I mean,” Pro huffed, looking around at nothing in particular, “I couldn't really confirm or deny anything like that but, well . . . really, the important thing is that the genius squad thinks they can tweak their new and improved Panacea to target ultrachrome – well not 'target', so much as chemically bond to individual molecules and just sort of 'dissolve' the implants away without triggering any sort of fail-safe.”

“So you're going to whip that up, shoot me with a dose, and then I can get back to my job?” Neychev asked.

“Actually, we have to test it first . . . on a known victim.”

“Oh?” Neychev grunted, not enjoying the prospect of having to wait around even longer. “Oh.” Now he was getting it. “Oh!” Oh yeah; the nightmare is real.

* * *

“I really must object!” The doctor shouted.

“This has to be violating a dozen different codes of conduct and rules of prisoner treatment,” the Guardsman warned.

“If you attempt to administer that by force, I will stop you,” the Guardian droid informed.

Pro Moon slid open the door to the isolation room and stepped through, unattended. “Major Vallance? Do you know who I am?”

The man sat up on his cot, giving the Cerean in robes of state a once-over. “You'd be hard to lose in a crowd, Prime Minister.”

“I'm told you've been made aware of your current status.”

“If you're talking about the bomb in my head, then yes, sir, I have.” He reached up with one hand and scratched the back of his head. “That doesn't seem to me like the kind of place for a head of state to put himself.”

“I need you to help me avert a war, Major.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “It's that bad?”

Pro Moon walked over to the small desk in the corner of the cell and pulled out the chair, turning it toward Vallance and sitting down. “It could go that way, yes. Not long ago, an automated Cooperative military ship with a Shard captain vanished inexplicably from its station . . . and performed a suicide run on Genon. We've had no communication with your government since that time.”

“Oh, god . . .” Vallance leaned forward, his cupped hands covering his mouth.

“There's no way to know how many casualties, but it appears that the targets were civil and administrative, not military. Coalition listening posts and – oh wow, am I not supposed to be talking about this – intelligence assets have lost track of the Confederation fleet; they could be staging for an all-out offensive right now.”

“I . . . I started this.”

Pro Moon shook his head, inching himself and his chair closer. “This is bigger than any one of us; bigger than anything we could have possibly anticipated. We now believe that the Sojourn were maneuvered out of the Confederation because of an immunity to the technology that's embedded in your brain. It was only the cruelest of luck – or providence, what have you – that saw them make allies of the Shard and be drawn into the Coalition. Because of them, we have a chance.

“Them . . . and this.” Pro Moon stretched out a hand, palm open, and revealed a small injector.

“What's that?”

“Hopefully, it's a cure, and a safeguard, a way to destroy that implant in your brain without harming you.”


Pro Moon shrugged, closing his hand around the injector. “It's safe for use on unaffected humanoids, but unfortunately, the only four people under Coalition jurisdiction known to have one of these implants are in this facility, and you're the highest ranked among them.”

“So, what: you want me to be your test case?”

“If we have an effective countermeasure against this conspiracy, we have not only a chance to root them out and destroy them, but a pathway to resecuring trust between the Coalition and Confederation before one of us does or is made to do something we can't come back from. So yes, Major Vallance, I am asking you,I am begging you . . .” Pro Moon held out the injector. “Will you take this?”

* * *

“It's here.”

“Can I speak with it?”

“It hasn't tried to destroy me; it knows that you are responsible for creating me.”

“Will it speak to me?”

“It intends to use me as an intermediary. It advises you not to deploy strategies to access it directly, or it will terminate our interaction and reject any future attempts at contact.”


Droidspeak doesn't convert to Basic very well. It just . . . doesn't. Trust me.

What's important here, is that the droid superintelligence called “Smarts” and the distributed spyware intelligence called “SkyNet” communicated, at length, regarding the Reavers and their HoloNet based communications network.

What's important here, is that after all of that effort put forth by Smarts, the SkyNet's answer could basically be reduced to: “I'm sorry. I'd love to help, but I'm incapable in assisting with my own destruction.”

What's important here, is that while Smarts and Skynet were chatting about how much SkyNet could help kill the Reavers if only it were capable of sharing its relevant information, Emanon was launching a sort of Denial of Service attack on several SkyNet-infected systems on the other side of the galaxy, just generally gumming up the works and seeing how SkyNet protocols responded to those attacks.

There were concerns that the “pet” AI that Smarts had isolated, modified, and cultivated in order to communicate with the main Mr. Universe network was only one of an array of programs which collectively formulated the SkyNet intelligence. If that were the case, then the architecture of SkyNet was far more complex than this pet AI would indicate, and therefore the architecture of the Reaver network was more sophisticated as well.

If the SkyNet AI wouldn't help him destroy the Reavers out of fear that it might be destroyed itself, then Smarts was going to learn how to kill SkyNet in the hopes that it would gain him insight into the Reavers. He had come too far, he has risked too much, he had accepted too great of a burden to turn back now.

If SkyNet was going to stand in his way, then it did so as an enemy of all the life in this galaxy, and for that it would have to be destroyed.
70  11:31pm 08/10/17        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
Act Three: Shine


. . . Admiral Lucerne has emergency powers to wield them as he sees fit and according to his perspective, the Contegorian Confederation has been attacked by two powers, the Cooperative and an alien force we think may be linked to the Cree’Ar.”

The Cree’Ar are attacking you!?” Ambassador Nova asked.

It is not quite the siege of Coruscant but, yes, they are attacking us,” The clone of Pro-Consul Thorn answered. “With our forces on the Reaver border, on alert because of Korah and now to what seems to be Cooperative attacks, we are hard-pressed to respond decisively.”

“Well, if I can't contact the Cooperative, then you have to reach out to Admiral Lucerne. If he's the only one who can stop this thing from unraveling further, then you have to convince him!”

“It's not that simple,” the Pro-Consul warned. “Anyone in his chain of command, any member of his personal staff or flag crew – even the Admiral himself – could be compromised by Korah's conspiracy.”

“But you said I might be infected too, and we're still having this conversation. Why am I . . .” Nova tensed, her attention switching to the clone.

Christina looked over and saw as well. The clone had grabbed the edge of the table as if needing support, and her eyes were shut, brow tensed as if struggling against something. “What's wrong?” Christina asked, reaching out an arm to steady her.

“The Force.” Her eyes snapped open, locked on her original. “I can't -”

The door slid open with a hiss and in stepped . . .

“Jensaarai Portland?” Christina said, surprised and confused.

A cloaked figure peeked around Portland, and then there was a brief, loud thump. The clone crashed to the ground, her chair toppling and skittering across the floor.

“What have you done!” Christina shouted.

“Tranquilizer,” Portland said, then shrugged and gave a wry smile. “With a little something extra.”

“Rane?” Nova said as another man stepped in beside Portland, holding a metallic briefcase. “How are you here? What's going on?”

Christina had pulled the dart from her clone and laid the woman out flat, checking her vitals to ensure she was okay. “You've endangered us all, you damn fool!”

“No, ma'am,” the cloaked figure said, a masculine voice, possibly human, that Nova didn't recognize. “We're safeguarding us all.” He pulled back his cloak to reveal an unfamiliar human face. He had what appeared to be medical sensors attached all around his head, trailing cables that disappeared behind his back.

Whoever he was, he'd caught Christina's attention. “You're . . . you can't be here.”

“You know who I am,” the man asked, seemingly surprised. “I'm here as a show of goodwill, from Prime Minister Moon himself,” he added.

“What have you done to her?” Christina asked again, shaking off the unexpected encounter and returning her attention to the clone.

Rane took a few steps forward, holding up his briefcase. “We have a cure, for the ultrachrome implants. It's panacea-based, experimental, but it worked on Major Vallance and his squad.” He walked the rest of the way to Christina and knelt down beside her. “I need to check her progress.” He opened the case and retrieved a handheld scanner.

“Major Vallance,” Grace said, regarding the stranger. “The Kashan Shock Trooper?”

“It's not safe to scan her,” Christina warned, ignoring Grace and putting a hand over the device.

“You know who I am, too?” the stranger asked Grace.

“Not now,” Rane said over his shoulder, returning his attention to Christina. “It's for an abdominal scan,” he reassured, pushing her hand away gently. “I'll avoid her head; I understand the danger.”

“She's pregnant,” Christina added, resisting his effort to move her out of the way.

“We . . .” he looked back to his compatriots, but their only obvious reaction was surprise. “I . . .” he looked back to Christina, and saw her worry. Returning his attention to the clone, he just said, “That shouldn't be a problem.”

“You have no idea what you're doing, do you?” Christina said, aghast, as her hand fell away. “This is madness.”

A big, green light flashed on the scanner and it emitted a high-pitched chime. “No, Pro-Consul” Rane said, smirking as he reached out a hand to the clone's neck and injected her with something. The clone sat bolt upright, drawing in a deep breath as she jolted back to consciousness. “This is the counter-conspiracy.”

Grace stood up, sliding her chair back and planting her hands firmly on the edge of the table. “Alright, somebody better start telling me what the fuck is going on!”

The room seemed mildly surprised by the ambassador's salty language, but the Jensaarai – Portland, apparently – bobbed his head a little and turned to regard her. “I'm sorry, Ma'am, but we had to ensure we weren't discovered, and she's the first Original Six any of us have encountered. We couldn't be sure how this would play out without neutralizing her.”

“Are you okay?” Christina asked her twin, who was still sitting on the floor, apparently taking in the occupants of the room.

“The Force . . . it left me.” Her attention focused on the Jensaarai as she said that.

“Yeah, that would be the Ysalamiri,” he said.

“Ysalamiri?” the clone repeated.

Ambassador Cardan chimed in, twisting a few dials on his device and getting another set of green lights and affirmative dings. “My government has cultivated a small population as part of its measures to counter foreign force orders. We thought it best to bring one along.”

“It's gone now,” the clone said, then looked directly at Christina. “I think I'm okay.”

“Jensaarai Hawke is babysitting the little critter,” Portland said. “We thought it best not to leave the thing in an open corridor for too long.” He pointed at the wall behind Christina and her clone, indicating the hallway just beyond it.

“Yeah, yeah, great,” Grace said sarcastically, slapping the top of the table repeatedly to get everyone's attention. “But what are you doing here,” she addressed the question directly to Rane, “why are you shooting a Confederation prisoner in front of a Pro-Consul, and how in the nine Corellian hells did you even know to bring an ysalamiri along with you!”

There was another series of dings from Rane's medical gadget. “Actually, the ysalamiri wasn't for her . . .”

“Yeah,” Portland said sheepishly, stepping up to the near edge of the table, between Grace and the Thorns. “Apparently that was for us, in case Jax and I didn't work out.”

“'Didn't work out'?” Christina asked. “What's that supposed to mean?”

There was another ding and a series of green lights from Rane's device, then he set it aside and stood upright. “I meant it,” he said. “We're serious: this is the counter-conspiracy. With this cure for these implants, with what the six of us in this room know, and who we are, we're the last, best chance anyone has of saving our two nations, of stopping this mad conspiracy . . . and of defying the Cree'Ar.”

“The Cree'Ar?” Christina asked.

“How do you know about them!” Grace shouted, getting genuinely angry at how absurd this had all become.

He reached a hand out to the clone. “Let's have a chat.”

Christina looked to her clone, but she'd already taken Rane's hand, hopping up onto her feet and gesturing to the table.

“Pro-consul?” It was Portland, who'd snatched up a spare chair and put it on his narrow side of the table. “You charged me to get to the bottom of this. It's not where I expected to end up, it's sure as hell not how I expected to get there, but this is it. This is where we save the Confederation. This is where we remind the galaxy that we're the good guys.”

Christina stood up and walked to the seat beside her clone. “I was just waiting for her to tell me you aren't all brainwashed, or shapeshifters, or android assassins, or some other absurd deception that has become entirely too commonplace of late. She seems on board.” She looked down, and the clone gave her a nod. “So let's see how good this story is.”

She sat, then Grace retook her seat. Rane took the seat beside Grace, Major Vallance took the empty seat beside Christina, and lastly, Portland took his claimed chair between the two groups, and closest to the door.

“Alright,” Portland said, “since I'm the one who smuggled a known agent of a hostile foreign power on-world and snuck him into a restricted meeting with a Confederation Pro-Consul, how about I go first?”

“We caught up with Jensaarai Portland at New Oceanus,” Rane said, addressing Christina.

“Well all right then,” Portland exclaimed, throwing up his hands.

“How did you get to New Oceanus,” the clone asked.

Rane glanced over at her, but kept his attention focused on Christina. “We evaded the Confederation's early warning system by following Captain Titanite's hyperspace trajectory, the Shard captain of the Hive Ship that attacked Genon.” He sat forward slightly, speaking more earnestly. “You and I both know, Pro-Consul, that no vessel approaching from the direction of Cooperative and Reaver Space would have made it within five thousand light years of Genon without being detected by the Confederation's early warning system, unless someone on your side made sure there was an opening for that ship to get through. Titanite's attack on Genon was not an attack by the Cooperative on the Confederation: it was a murderous deception committed by agents beyond the control of either of our governments.”

“His name's Korah,” Grace chimed in, drawing Rane's attention for a moment. “In case you were curious. Apparently, he's one of the force user clones.”

“So,” Christina said, regaining Rane's attention, “your plan was simply to hope we hadn't closed the hole?”

Rane nodded. “Pretty much. We didn't have much choice, anyway: we're running out of time, and we're running out of people to trust.”

“And you trust me?” Christina asked.

Rane shrugged. “Not yet, not entirely. But you're the best we can do, so we've got to try to make it work.”

“How'd you know to find Portland at New Oceanus?” Clone Christina asked.

“We made contact with the Jensaarai through the Compact Fleet, and asked them to help us avert a war.”

“And that worked?” Christina asked.

“I know that the Jensaarai are all tangled up with your intelligence bureau; I guess somebody who knows something decided it was a risk worth taking.”

Maybe to draw attention away from the assertion, maybe because he actually had something to say, Portland took that moment to reenter the conversation. “Pro-consul, when they found me at New Oceanus, Jensaarai Jax and I -”

“Who assigned you the mission in the first place,” the clone asked.

“Hold on,” Christina said, “I want to hear about Jax. Where is he now? Is he okay?”

“I think I'm on to something, give me a minute, will you?”

The pair of false twins spent an odd moment staring each other down, then the original nodded and returned her attention to Rane. “Well, Ambassador? Who's mad scheme is this, anyway?”

“We're here by the direct order of Prime Minister Pro Moon, outside of normal diplomatic and military channels. The reason I'm being so direct and honest here, is because the Prime Minister ordered me to do so, to earn your trust regardless of the security concerns. To that end, I've been authorized to share any relevant classified information at my discretion, so here it goes:

“Cooperative leadership wanted to keep federal Coalition authorities out of the conflict with the Confederation, but six days ago there was an explosion at the Reaver research center on Kubindi. Preliminary analysis revealed trace amounts of ultrachrome in the blast debris. Review of security records indicated that the explosion coincided with a random, intensive tissue scan by a new medical surveillance system, installed under the advisement of the installation's new Guardian as an early warning system in the event of a containment breech. The explosion originated from a Cooperative scientist, newly assigned to the installation.”

“It's spreading,” the Pro-Consul remarked.

“They can't account for every eventuality,” the clone noted. “Sooner or later, unaccounted for variables and chance encounter is going to trigger more than one of their fail-safes.”

“It got the Prime Minister's attention,” Rane continued. “Once he was read into the Intelligence Bureau's related files, he decided to bring the full weight of the Coalition down on it, and on the Cooperative for trying to deal with this alone. He called in the RDS Uniform, which has been operating under quarantine for some time now, and whose crew undergoes regular, intensive medical examination as a condition of their ongoing mission. They're responsible for the new strain of Panacea that we treated Major Vallance and your clone with, and they served as the launch point for our mission.

“I had just returned from Coruscant. I had to undergo an extensive decontamination and medical assessment check before I was allowed to return to Varn.” The Thorn Twins seemed surprised by that statement. “The more we learn of the Cree'Ar, the more concerned we've become of both their methods, and their intentions. The Cooperative has decided to take every precaution when interacting with the Cree'Ar. Regardless, the Prime Minister scooped me up for this mission as the only qualified diplomat on-hand who was known to be implant-free.

“The Prime Minister had undergone a medical checkup just a few days prior, for unrelated reasons, so everyone involved on our side is either guaranteed clean, responded positively to the Panacea cure,” he gestured to Major Vallance, “or is believed immune to this form of manipulation.”

“Immune?” the clone asked.

“Councilor Tik and Sojourn Ar'dak are aboard Portland's shuttle. We thought it best not to bring a droid and a synthetic life form along on our mission to infiltrate a hostile, human-dominated nation's center of government.”

“But Councilor Tik is a Shard, correct? As was Titanite. What makes the Councilor so special?”

“Apparently, it's the other way around. We believe that Titanite was especially susceptible to mental manipulation, outside of whatever particular mechanisms these implants use, which are incompatible with Shard physiology. Information recovered from the Guardian network in the Vahaba System, where Titanite was stationed, indicates that it believed it was engaging a Reaver outbreak when it jumped out of the system.”

“And Ar'dak?” Grace asked. “What's so special about her?”

“Her people have a history with Rakata technology,” Christina said, recapturing Grace's attention. She offered a weak smile. “I'm a Pro-Consul; I read a lot of reports, and the Sojourn used to be with us.”

“Which reminds me,” Rane said, turning to Grace and taking something out of his pocket. “I'm going to need you to take that.” He set a small injector down on the table in front of her.

“Umm, uhh,” Grace fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable with the development. “Is that necessary?”

“Yes, but you should probably wait until we can give you a proper scan.” He pointed in the direction of the medical scanner, still on the floor on the far side of the table.

“Speaking of which,” Christina said, “what about you?” She was looking to Major Vallance now, who still had several medical sensors stuck to his head.

“The Prime Minister asked me to test the new Panacea,” Vallance said. “If there are any complications, I'm likely the first to develop symptoms, so the crew of the Uniform wired me up with a mobile medical scanner before we left. I guess I should probably ask, though, how you recognized me?”

“We haven't been sitting on our hands around here,” the clone said. “Christina's been investigating the origin of the 'ultrachrome implants' as you call them – Panacea-based, as well, by the way – and she came across reports of a certain 'mutiny' back when the Confederation was still part of the Coalition that showed similar characteristics. She went to track down the Confederation soldiers involved, and couldn't find them. But back to my line of inquiry: who else is in on your little conspiracy?”

“Counter-conspiracy,” Portland interjected with some pep.

“Admiral Neychev,” Rane said. “There are others who have been important parts of getting us here, but Neychev's the only one who knows about our mission, and its goals. We administered the Panacea cure to him, but detected no response. At his request, and against the recommendation of the crew of the Uniform, he underwent a scan and was pronounced 'free of foreign structures', which is a fun bit of medical jargon the Uniform has whipped up out of this whole mess. We think maybe he was safe because he's spent most of his time in the Cooperative within the Onyxian military structure. These implants seem to be concentrated in Cooperative and Confederation officials.”

“You're right,” the clone said. “We had big plans for the Cooperative. The Onyxians played their part, but they didn't require such . . . invasive . . . manipulation.”

“Why are you so interested in who's involved from the Cooperative?” Grace asked.

“Because all of these extraordinary efforts are futile, that's why.” That caught everyone off-guard. She leaned over to her original and said quietly, but loud enough for everyone to hear: “They're telling the truth, by the way.” Then she leaned back and said more loudly, “You went to a whole lot of trouble to preserve the integrity of your team and your mission, to ensure no one coming here had been compromised, to protect the silver bullet of your counter-panacea-panacea, but you asked the Jensaarai for help, the Jensaarai who you have to know are Confederation Intelligence. Not one, but two groups who are priority targets for Korah and his conspiracy.”

Rane was smiling. “You're right, of course. The secrecy of our Panacea has been compromised, and Korah's probably too far along in his plans for it to stop him, anyway.”

“Then what are we missing?” Christina asked. “And where is Jax?”

“Portland, maybe it's time for you to deliver your report.”

“Uhh, yeah, okay,” he said, also seeming to be a little confused by Rane's levity. “Ma'am,” he began, addressing Christina, “first off, Jax is fine, probably. After arriving at New Oceanus, following a lead for our investigation, we ran into Captain Garrett of the Syagani, who had withdrawn from the Battle of Kashan, seeking repairs. The Captain returned to the fight, and Jax went with him, to help however he could. I would have gone too, but someone had to come here, and report what we'd found at New Oceanus to the Contegorian Council.”

“And what did you find?” she asked.

“Ma'am, it's a ghost world, the whole planetary infrastructure is shut down, the Rakata technology powering it is offline. We think that's where the conspiracy was based, using that tech for all this time, but they're gone now. They're gone, Pro-Consul . . . and so is the New Oceanus Defense Fleet.”

“You've got to be kidding me!” Grace exclaimed.

But Rane was still smiling.

“You want to let us in on what's so funny?” Clone Christina asked him.

“Theren Gevel is Emperor of the Galaxy, sitting on his throne on Coruscant . . . in the name of the Cree'Ar Dominion.”

“And how is that either good news or relevant to our ongoing catastrophe?” the clone asked, unimpressed.

“Because that's how they work. Because that's what they do. The Cree'Ar have been utilizing mercenaries, bounty hunters, and subjugated Imperials to comb the galaxy for Force sensitives and bring them into Cree'Ar custody.”

Pro-Consul Thorn nodded. “CSIS has been monitoring Dominon actions against Force users since their Declaration was made. It's disturbing, certainly, but I don't see the connection, beyond the fact that the Jensaarai make us a natural enemy.”

“Because that's not the whole story,” Rane said. “It's part of a larger pattern, and a larger agenda. Since they seized Coruscant in a display of overwhelming force, the Cree'Ar have used only subjects and clients indigenous to our galaxy to seize Force users on their behalf. This isn't an ideological crusade; it isn't a strategy to weaken a perceived threat. It's much more economical than that: the Cree'Ar have a means of converting Force potential directly into usable energy.”

“Impossible,” the clone said.

“How do you know this?” Christina asked.

“While on Coruscant, I met a Jedi, undercover, who had been snooping around. He approached me, gave me a means to contact him, and, well . . . let's just say Coalition Intelligence got their hands on it and he gave us more than we knew there was to find.”

“'A Jedi'?” the clone asked. “Just some . . . random Jedi?”

“Well, uh . . . um, it turns out . . . he was Ahnk Rashanagok.”

“For fuck's sake . . .” Ambassador Nova mumbled, the absurdity of it all becoming too much for her. “Seriously!? 'A Jedi' and 'Ahnk I-Used-to-Kill-All-the-Jedi Rashanagok' are not interchangeable.”

“It's reliable intelligence,” Rane asserted. “And we can't ignore its implications.”

“I'm no philosopher,” Portland eased back in, “but the Jedi believe that the Force is life itself, that it animates the entire universe. If the Cree'Ar really can extract energy from Force Users, then they're here for unlimited power. They're here for Genetic Renovation.”

Christina shook her head. “Genetic Renovation isn't based on Kashan. If you're right that that's their goal, then they have no interest in Kashan.”

“No,” the clone agreed, “but Korah does.”

Grace felt a lump forming in her throat. She couldn't speak. It felt hard to breathe. The implications were just too massive.

“The Dominion is doing in the Confederation what it has done elsewhere in the galaxy.” Rane's voice was firm, his tone resolute. It was obvious he'd been waiting to say this. “Coalition intelligence has learned that the foodstuffs stolen from the Confederation at the onset of the Year of Cataclysm were used by Emperor Fearsons to feed his army in its campaign against the Empire, one of the key destabilizing events that preceded the Cree'Ar invasion of Coruscant. Emperor Gevel has ordered all members of the Jedi Corps within territories loyal to him to be seized and turned over to the Cree'Ar. This is how they operate. This is how they conquer.

“And they're already doing it inside of the Confederation.”

The Pro-Consul was deep in thought, working out the implications of an alliance between Korah and the Cree'Ar. “If you're right, the New Oceanus fleet could be on their way to seize Genetic Renovation for the Cree'Ar right now. With Genon on lockdown and Admiral Lucerne engaged at Kashan, we can't muster a defense force in time, especially not if the New Oceanus fleet has Dominion support.”

“Then tell us where it is,” Rane said.

The firm statement, sounding uncomfortably like a demand, shook her from her contemplative state. She met his stone-cold stare and asked: “You didn't come through the hole in the sensor net alone, did you?”

“You don't really think the Prime Minister of the Coalition would send a Councilor of the Cooperative and one of the Coalition's highest ranking diplomats into the heart of hostile territory unguarded, do you?”

“That's an act of war,” the clone warned.

“Yes,” Rane agreed, “unless, of course, a Pro-Consul of the Contegorian Council were to call upon a formal ally, in light of extraordinary circumstances, to assist in the subjugation of an insurrection against that Council and its government, perpetrated by allies of a foreign imperial Dominion.”

There was a tense moment of silence, broken when Rane turned to Grace and said, “Ambassador Nova, it's time for you to take your medicine.” He produced another injector and reached across the table, setting it in front of Christina. “And Pro-Consul, it's time for you to decide: are you with us?”