Book: Terra Dawning

Terra Dawning

Terra Dawning

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Table of Contents

Copyright Page


Bedouin's Travels

Terra Dawning

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

About the Author

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Bedouin's Travels

Twilight Earth

The Long, Dark Night

Terra Dawning

*A New Day (First Quarter of 2016)

Terra Dawning

Chapter One

Primary Landing Area

Argassi Aerie and Polyponics facility

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

News of the pirates’ atrocity spread like wildfire, and it even attracted the attention of the regional Hyclarion Ranger Outpost (or simply the HRO). The destruction of the Aerie made people realize that if an Aerie, even a small one, could be destroyed by these pirates, then none of them were truly safe. The Duke got his wish in spades.

In a way, his plan had worked a little too well. He grossly underestimated the reactions of a planet full of scared people. The HRO arrived on planet to begin their own investigation almost before the Duke had time to react.

He hadn't had time to move the troops he had hidden, and a high resolution scan of the ocean floors would soon reveal the transport ships that had brought those troops to this world. So he had to figure out a way to keep the HRO from doing their own scans.

The Duke knew that the main reason the HRO was there was because the Aerie had been insured, and the insurance company would require an investigation before agreeing to release the funds to purchase a new Aerie.

The Duke had worried about the problem until the HRO ship had landed at StarDock, then proceeded to Argassi. He smiled with inspiration. If their ship was here at the StarDock, then it wouldn't be in orbit doing scans. The Rangers would have to rely on the Duke's resources and people to do the scanning.

He had long ago made sure that any scan of the planet would not reveal anything out of the ordinary; no strange power readings, no weird or suspicious 'rock' formations, and no large, non-biological underwater targets.

Although the Duke had not bothered with the report on the late Addson Dee, he did make damn sure there was nothing in the findings from the Aerie investigation that would indicate military grade equipment. That would require the HRO to stay and track down the pirates, just to try and trace the weapons. That was something the Duke very much did not want to happen.

As he stood in the lounge awaiting the contingent of Rangers, he watched as they disembarked from their ship. This particular group had two humans with them. The Duke growled to himself. He'd heard the fucking Emperor had allowed a few of that worthless race to attend the academy on Hyclarion.

From what he'd heard, not only did they carry weapons, they had been cybernetically enhanced in order for them to fulfill their duty as rangers. The fact that humans had been made stronger in order to defeat other races in hand to hand combat made him want to regurgitate. Humans being given weapons was just more proof that this 'Emperor' was not only unfit for the job, but grossly negligent as well.

Everyone knew that humans were only good for two things; slaves, and the dinner table. They simply weren't smart enough for anything else. Luckily they bred like rabbits, and so a properly managed herd could easily be turned into a cash-generating business. That was something he planned to do as soon as he got rid of the sniveling sycophant on Hyclarion!

“Duke Tammerain, in the name of His Imperial Majesty, Hjoolous the ninety-third, you are hereby ordered to render all assistance to the formal investigation being conducted by Hyclarion Ranger Outpost number eight-forty-seven upon the world of Terral III, which is within the boundaries of your holdings. Will you comply with this order?”” One of the short, human Rangers said, in a very business-like manner.

The Duke had refused to look at her as she approached, so he hadn't noted her rank. He had simply assumed she was a regular trooper. “Where is your Commander, Human?”

“I am the Commander of this mission, as well as the senior officer on my ship. If you truly want to speak to my Commander, I'm sure I can arrange a meeting for you,” the woman snapped. “I am Ranger Commander Jance Halst of Hyclarion. Am I to assume then, that you are refusing this order..., Duke?”

“You will address me as My Lord or My Duke while you are within the bounds of my holding, Human!” The big lizard hissed. “I will not stand for disrespect from a human!””

“Very well, Duke Tammerain, In the name of the Emperor, I am placing you under arrest for refusing an Imperial Directive...” she began.

“I did not say I was refusing you stupid... AAAIIIIIGGHHH!” He swung at her as he'd been speaking, and the next thing he knew he was on his back. His prominent genitals and strong tail felt like they had been dropped into a vat of liquid ohto. He was effectively paralyzed.

Jance walked up so he could see her. “You never attempt to strike a Ranger unless you are trying to kill her. Now, since I got the privilege of knocking you on your scaly ass, I will forget everything that has happened since we got off the ship and assume you agreed to comply. Keep your mouth shut, let us do our job and we'll be off this fucking mud ball of yours as soon as we can.”” She stood back up and pointed to another being that was in a uniform. “You, I assume you're the security head?” When it nodded, she continued. “Excellent. Lead on and we can begin.”

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

21 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

Ben sat quietly and calmly in his chair. He knew that what was about to be discussed on the com would be hard to justify to the Council members, but he must try. Too much was at stake.

“Brothers and Sisters. As you already know, General Greenwold has positively identified a base near us that is being used by the pirates that have been raiding on the surface. She has submitted a plan to attack and take the base. Before anyone asks, there are some very good reasons for taking this base.

“First, because of the destruction of the Aerie that was located at Great Falls, Montana, in the former United States, the investigation into the pirate’s activities will now have a much higher priority to planetary officials. Which tells me, that if they find these pirates, they will also find this pod group and possibly our military base.

"Second, we need more information about our new time before we can even begin to formulate a plan to reclaim our world. Taking this base and as many prisoners as we can will help gain us this knowledge. The down side to this is that if we are discovered, the authorities will most likely believe we are actually the pirates. Which, they will believe anyway if we are discovered before we can reach the Hyclarion Emperor.

“Third. I'm not real keen on allowing an armed force we don't control this close to us. If they detect us before we act, they would be forced to attack us because they would think that we are the Imperial Police or whatever passes for that agency. A fight here would most likely attract the attention of the authorities on the surface and they would investigate and we would be discovered.

“Fellow Councilors; I am contacting you like this because it is my intention to authorize this attack. My goal is to inform you of the impending action and answer any questions you may have. To that end, I will answer what I can,” Ben finished.

Mother announced, “Councilor Inichi Qua has a question; Honorable Prime: May we know how far away the base is from you, as well as what size force you will be using?” Mother had translated for the councilor, who really sucked at English.

Ben nodded. “Certainly, Councilor. The pirate base is located approximately seventy-five miles to our north-east, in the ruins of the city of St. Louis, Missouri, in the former United States. Although we are unsure of the exact size of the base, we are going to send seventy of our soldiers to take the base. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but most of these people are from former special operations teams in the various militaries of our old world.

“We are preparing special holding cells for a large number of prisoners in the event they are taken. Because of the amount of unknowns here, we are first going to send a small six man team to do a recon of the area and of the base using seismic equipment. If possible, they are to kidnap at least one or two adult individuals to be brought back here for questioning. Based on the information learned from those people, we will adjust our troops and plan of attack.”

Again, Mother announced, “Councilor Carlyle has a question.”

“Aye that I do. Prime what exactly are th' goals in th' takin' of yon base?”

“Simple, to remove the threat of discovery because of our proximity to the base and to gain as much information as possible from the base computer systems and personnel,” Ben replied. “Of course, if they have a ship or two we could get, that would be pretty great too.”

Planetary Office of the Duke

Argassi Aerie and Polyponics facility

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

That thrice damned, cybernetically enhanced, malignant mutant of a human bitch! How dare she strike him! That fucking little breeder would be on his dinner plate at the next Festival of Barssnathh or he wouldn't rest until she was ground up and dumped into the recyclers! The gall of that... human! Better beings than her had dared to strike his genitals and they paid for their temerity; she will not be the exception!

Pulling his terminal to him while he recovered on his warming rock, he began pressing keys rapidly. He hissed in pleasure as he issued his new orders to the pathetic dupes everyone else called pirates. He would have them kill that bitch for him! It was fitting after all that one of her own kind take her down for him!

The death of a Ranger team would be all the excuse he needs to bring troops here. Combined with the amount he already had covertly stashed all over the planet and in this system, he would finally have enough to unseat that ineffective primate from the throne on Hyclarion!

Once he finished issuing his orders, he reclined back on the stone to nurse his wounded pride. The medic had told him that he would have to ‘therapy’ before he would be able to breed again. The way he felt right now, no amount of therapy in the galaxy help him. Maybe after that fucking human was dead he would feel like it, but certainly not now.

Hidden Pirate Headquarters.

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

Elrond stared at the orders in total disbelief. There was simply no way he could carry out these orders. Kill a whole Imperial Ranger team? How the fuck was he supposed to do that? He put his head in his hands and closed his eyes. Now what was he going to do?

The Rangers were possibly the only beings on planet that could possibly help his people, and he had orders to kill them. After the destruction of the Aerie, the death of that prospector, and those poor folks from the tram, he knew that his life was forfeit, along with most of the rest of the people. About the best they could hope for now, would be for their children to be spared.

How had he gone from a simple ohto smuggler to a mass murderer? How did he let it happen? A soft rapping on his door brought him out of his inner dialogue. “Come.”

Arivan Jythee, Elrond's sometimes helpmate and sometimes lover, opened the door and slipped inside. She had been smiling coyly until she saw his face. Her smile disappeared almost instantly.

“What's wrong?”

In reply, he simply handed her the missive his computer had printed out after decoding the message. She quickly read it, then read it again.

“He's completely off his rock! You can't just kill a Ranger Team! We'd lose half our people in the attempt, and then there is no guarantee we could do it. Those folks are damn hard to kill!” she replied, looking at him in desperation.

“I know. There is no way in hell we can do this, but there is also no way in hell that fat fucking lizard will believe it. The problem is, we're still stuck between a rock and a hard place. We can't run for help, and even if we could, we have no proof,” he commiserated. ““I have no idea what to do here.”

It was a little frightening for Arivan to see her friend like this. For as long as she'd known him, he was always decisive, he always knew what to do and where he was going. All the insane orders from the Duke, all the murders they'd had to perform in his name were killing Elrond's soul. This was the time he needed her the most. She just hoped he would accept it.

Standing up and facing him, she slowly took off her clothes. He had watched her with a confused expression on her face. When she bent down and kissed him tenderly on the lips. He pulled back.

“Ari! Now is not the time! How can you even think about being intimate at a time like this?”

“Hush now! This is exactly the time for it. Just relax, and let me do this. It's late and you need this. Trust me, you'll feel better in the morning,” Arivan replied and pushed him back onto his bed.

“Listen-up kids, the soundings we took earlier indicate that we are sitting real close to the pirate base,” Gail said. “The recon boys also found the airlock we will be using as our entry point. We are not here to take the base, yet. This is a snatch and grab. We sneak in, grab a few people, and get the fuck out before anyone knows we're there.

“Mother tells us that this corridor has what appears to be sleeping quarters or small apartments. This area is also one of the least traveled. It's the middle of the night on the surface, so we should be able to find some of the folk in their bunks. Remember to use the remotes that each team was given to open the locks. Ideally, we go in and get back out without any casualties on either side.

“Team One, you hit the first apartment on the left side of the hallway. Team Two, you hit the second. Enter, secure any and all individuals you find, and get them back to the ship. Team Three, you go to the third apartment and warn us if anyone's coming. Questions?”

They had all been over this three times before, so there were no questions. There were a few anxious faces, but none that were really nervous. Gail closed the visor on her battle suit, and gave her pilot the thumbs up.

The lock that the teams were using had actually been slightly covered with silt and sand. However, the pilot had used the ship's thrusters to clean off the area, and sealed her lock to the door before any of the mess could resettle. At Gail's signal, she'd opened the door on the ship, giving Gail access to the pirate base's door.

Gail grinned in her suit as three members of Team Three raised their weapons and trained them at the door. She stepped forward, and placed the special remote against the lock controls, and pressed the activate button. She wasn't surprised when Mother's voice was heard in her helmet.

“General, it is as I thought. This is a simple airlock with a sonic locking mechanism. I should have it open quickly.”

“Thank you, Mother. That'd be great,” Gail replied.

There was a moment or two of silence, and then a sudden burst of muffled tones. The lock groaned slightly, but slid open.

Team Three was the first in and slowly worked their way down the corridor to their guard spot. They had barely cleared the lock when Team Two entered and followed them. Lastly, Gail led her team in, and slowly moved up to the first door on the left. Once again, she set the remote against the door controls and pressed 'activate'.

The lock light on the door turned green and she slid it open just a crack to see inside. What she saw almost made her laugh.

Ari was very good at taking his mind off of problems. She just had a way about her that made you forget everything in the world except her when you made love. That was why Elrond didn't see the lock plate on his door change, or noticed that it moved.

That was why it was such a surprise when he felt the barrel of the strange weapon gently tap his thigh. He froze and looked behind Ari, who had yet to notice they were no longer alone. The being in the obviously armored suit motioned for him to be silent, as Ari finally came out of her spell to ask him what was wrong.

When he motioned to the intruders, she jumped off him in surprise. The suited being held up a hand and took a step back. From a device in one gloved hand, a voice issued.

“I'm really sorry to interrupt you folks. But I'm afraid you'll need to get dressed and come with me. Please be quiet, and please hurry.”

“Who are you?” Elrond asked. “What do you want with us?”

It took a moment for the reply, and Elrond suddenly realized the device was a translator.

Through the translator, Gail replied. “This isn't the place for this discussion. We will answer your questions, but you have to come with us.”

“I don't suppose refusing is really an option is it?” Ari asked.

The closest suited figure slowly shook its head. “I'm afraid not, however, we are on a tight schedule, so if you would like to have your clothes, I suggest you both start putting them on.”

“Well, you're way too nice to be Hyclarion Rangers, and too small to be lizards. Of course, if you did work for the Duke, you would have simply shot us,” Ari said, as she scrambled into her clothes.

Once both 'prisoners' were dressed, Gail and her team hurried them down the corridor and back into their small ship. Team Three had followed her, since Team Two had already gotten they're quarry into the ship.

Gail and her team quickly closed and sealed the lock, and were back underway for their base within ten minutes of docking. As far as they knew, no one had noticed that they'd been in the base at all.

“By the gods! Elrond! They're taking us deeper!” the other young man captured by Team Two said. “Who are these people?””

“I don't know, Jaric. But, I don't think they mean to hurt us either. So just relax, and do what you're told, okay?” Elrond replied.

Gail had been removing her helmet while the two men had been speaking. The atmosphere in the ship had been altered to accommodate the prisoners. However, it wasn't fully ideal for them. There was still enough oxygen in it for Gail and her people to breathe, although it was still pretty thin.

Gail smiled at Elrond. “Thank you. You are correct; we do not intend to harm you. We simply want information at this point.”

Elrond looked confused. “What kind of information could you want from us? We're simple prospectors, and everything we know is available at any terminal.”

Gail lost her smile. “Elrond, I would really appreciate it if that would be the last time you lie to us. We know who you are, as well as what you've done. As far as the information you have being available to us... well, let's just say we're connected to a different network.”

“So if you know who we are, why are we still breathing?” Ari asked, a little miffed.

Gail turned to the cute redhead. “Because, like you, I follow orders from someone else.”

Elrond looked floored. “How did... How could you possibly... Do you have any proof we can use in a tribunal?”

The older man had asked that almost in a panic. So Gail decided to become a bit more wary about what she told them. “No, we don't. Which is why we need more information.”

“Can I ask where you're taking us and when you'll be bringing us back?” Ari asked.

“The name of our destination wouldn't mean anything to you. As far as going back, that depends on how cooperative you all are. I should warn you that we breathe a different atmosphere than you do. Ours is much richer in ohto and has a lower concentration of dioxin than what you are used to. So if you try to escape, there is a good chance you will suffocate,”” Gail explained.

“What are you talking about? You're breathing this air the same as we are,” Jaric said.

“The air in here has been modified so we can both breathe it. If I were to get up and walk around, I would quickly become light headed, and most likely faint. As you will notice, the rest of my people have chosen to remain in their suits.

“If you exerted yourselves, you would begin to feel drunk and disoriented until you too collapsed. Once we get to where we are going, the atmosphere will be normal for us, but it will make you folks kinda sick.

“We have these special breathers we will give to you, so you can breathe safely while we ask all of you questions. Do you each understand this?” Gail finished. She noticed that all four people nodded their heads. Jaric's lady had yet to say anything, but from the way they treated Elrond, they were subordinate to him.

Gail was tempted to ask him if he was the leader of Rivendell, but didn't think anyone else would see the humor, so she kept quiet the rest of the trip. No one else spoke either, each of them thinking through their own decisions and questions.

However, once the ship had sat down on the floor of the huge bay, the prisoners seemed to be more compliant. Four Marines left the craft first, while Gail guided the captives down the ramp and made sure they each had a respirator on.

When she followed them down the ramp she saw Ben standing between two armed Marines, watching them disembark. Without preamble, Elrond, with a guard beside him, walked up to Ben and held out his hand.

“Hello, I am Captain Elrond Coir; Captain and Master of the privateer Bittertree. I am the over-all leader of the group known as the Pirates. On behalf of my fellows, I claim sanctuary, Sir.”

Chapter Two

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee”

Terran Marine Base Alpha

23 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

Ben did have one of the translators with him, but when he heard what the man said, he had to check to see if it was working correctly. “Excuse me?”

Elrond fought the urge to chuckle. From the way he was protected, it was obvious this was the person in charge, even though he looked really young. “I said, I claim Sanctuary, Sir. You are the leader here, aren't you?”

Ben nodded. “Yes I am, but I'm a little confused. Are you not the group who shot down a young prospector, and later destroyed the Great Falls Aerie?”

“Damn!” Elrond said. “I had hoped, since you are not part of the Duchy, you might not know about those, and we could get away.””

Ben looked at the man. He wasn't being misleading, or trying to pull a fast one, he was scared; scared and desperate.

“Why would you need to claim Sanctuary with us? No one's figured out where you are yet except for us, and as you said, we're not part of the Duchy. What are you afraid of?” Ben asked.

Elrond waited for the translation. Who were these people? “The Rangers are here now. The Duke has put us in a position to take the fall for all the attacks he's ordered. I have over two hundred people under my command; women and children that had nothing to do with this, but who will be executed simply by association.”

This was getting more complicated by the minute. “Follow me, let's find a place to sit. It sounds like this is going to be a very involved story.”

Just then a disturbance by the doors to the cavernous bay got the small group's attention.

“Let me through! I want to kill that son of a bitch! They're nothing but fucking murderers!” Ben saw a very pissed off Addson Dee fighting the marine guards to be let into the bay.

Elrond blushed and looked at the floor. “She's right, we are murderers now.”

Ben shut off the translator and leaned over to one of his guards. “Make sure she's not armed and let her though. It might be good if she sat in on this.” The Marine nodded and keyed his tactical mic to relay the order.

Ben turned the translator back on. “Let’s head over to the pilot's briefing room. It's not ideal, but it'll save a trip back to the Pod.”

“What's a Pod?” Elrond asked.

“That's part of our long story,” Ben said, cryptically.

They had made it to the briefing room before Addson caught up to them. However, when she did, she immediately launched herself at Elrond.

“You fucking Animal! You murdered friends of mine! People I loved!” She screamed.

Elrond held up his hands in defense against the slapping attack, until Ben and one of the guards could restrain her.

“Addson! Get control of yourself! I had them let you in because I thought it might be good for you to understand what's behind all of this! Now, please! Calm Down!” Ben said in as commanding a voice as he could.

“They need to be executed for their crimes, Ben! Not talked to!” Addson pleaded.

“Would you just kill them out of hand, without finding out if there is more to this picture? What if this man isn't the one who planned it? Wouldn't you feel better knowing we killed the right person instead of just blasting away at everyone you think might be involved?” Ben reasoned. Amazingly, his words were having an affect. Addson was calming down. She was clearly still pissed, but she was no longer ready to kill. “We are in the middle of a military base filled with Marines, they're not going anywhere.”

She stared at Elrond and the others with murderous intent, but nodded to Ben and slowly took a chair.

“Excuse me, Sir, but you called her Addson. She isn't the poor girl we had to shoot down, is she?” Elrond asked.

Addson opened her mouth to reply, saw Ben's face and closed it.

“As a matter of fact she is. When she crashed we detected it and dispatched a ship to recover her. She was pretty banged up, but she's doing better now,” Ben replied and turned to see the man's reaction to the news.

He was surprised, but seemed very happy about it. The woman that had been holding on to his arm smiled excitedly and hugged him.

“Thank the Gods! We'd hoped you might have survived, but then we heard the report. Let's just say that we are very happy to hear that report proven false,” Elrond said.

“Why would it matter to you?” Addson asked. “You've got a pretty large body count, what does one more or less matter?”

Elrond lost his smile. “Every one of them matters. We've the deaths of those at Great Falls on our hands, yes, but the fewer deaths laid at our feet the better.”

“What about those from the tram you robbed?” Addson asked.

“There were ten more people on that train than we were told. We told them not to leave the tram station emergency shelter and there was supposed to be a rescue mission dispatched as soon as the tram stopped. They were not supposed to die. In fact, they shouldn't have been more than inconvenienced. We had no idea they hadn't been rescued until we heard the report of the incident and by then it was too late for us.

“You see, most of my people are indentured servants in the house of the Duke. Since humans in that household tend to end up on the dinner table, we jumped at the chance to have our debts canceled.

“At first, it was simple stuff. Smuggle this or that to another planet in the duchy. Stage a mock pirate raid on a freighter that was supposed to be carrying high value goods. No one ever got hurt though. We made that clear to him; we wouldn't kill except in defense.

“Fucking Lizard is pretty smart. He's also been using us all along. By the time we realized it, we already had several murders and kidnappings laid at our feet. You see, those freighters we 'raided'? Well, after our raid, his personal house troops would go in and remove the crew before the investigators got there. Poor bastards ended up on some lizard's table and we got tagged for it.

“We stopped the raids and refused to do anything else. He told us to come here and do a few more jobs for him and he'd honor our bargain. He promised no one else would be kidnapped.” He snorted and looked at his lady, then shook his head. ““He didn't say killed, he said kidnapped. But let us think he meant killed. He also threatened to turn us in to the Hyclarion as pirates if we didn't obey his orders.

“With each thing he ordered us to do, we got deeper and deeper, with no way out. The Great Falls nightmare was the last thing, though. We had decided that we were going to try to make a run for it. We thought if we could at least get out of the atmosphere, we could get our asses out of the Empire, and someplace where we could be human again,”” Elrond said. “I thought you knew most of this? The soldier we talked to knew we took our orders from someone else.”

“If the Duke is the one giving you orders, like you said, why don't you simply offer those recordings in defense of your actions?” Ben asked. “As for what we know... well, we have no proof of anything, except for the fact that your actions made no sense at all.”

“We can't. The Duke is a lot of things, but one of things he is the best at is computers. He does something to the messages so we can't record them, or trace them back to him. We have nothing and no way to prove anything we've just told you. It's our word against his, which wouldn't even be listened to,” Elrond said, shrugging. “No one would believe us and all of us would be hung.”

“Voice stress analysis indicates he is telling the truth, Prime. I would very much like to investigate the computer systems of the enclave,” Mother said through the speakers. “Perhaps I could find the evidence he is speaking of.”

“Thank you, Mother. I'll take that into consideration when planning our next steps,” Ben replied.

“But you could have refused to shoot me down, or to blow up the Aerie!” Addson replied.

“No, we couldn't. The Duke would simply have called in the HRO and turned us over to them. Now, it looks like we're finished anyway. An HRO investigation team arrived on planet a couple of days ago,” Elrond said. “It’s only a matter of time before they find us.”

“What's the HRO?” Ben asked.

“What you would call the Imperial Police, Ben,” Addson answered. “They are very good at their jobs and carry the authority to do what they need to do. They are notoriously honest and fanatically loyal to the Empire.”

“There is a human woman leading them,” Elrond added. “M'Lord Duke wants us to capture her and kill the rest of the team. I assume, he would like to kill her himself.””

“Hold it, everyone.” Ben raised his hands to stop the conversation. “This whole thing is confusing the hell out of me. We need to have a pow-wow here. Elrond and Arivan, would you please accompany me to my home? Your friends will be well looked after, I promise you,” Ben said, indicating the other couple.

“Uh, sure,” Elrond said turning to look at Arivan who nodded agreement. The other couple however, looked slightly uneasy about being separated from Elrond.

“Just go with them, Jaric. If they had meant us harm, we would be in a cell or already dead and not in a briefing room,” Elrond told them.

Ben spoke to the ceiling. “Mother, could you ask Deirdre and Jorga if they have some free time. Also, I would like to have Councilor Carlyle there via telepresence.”

“Yes Prime. Marcy would like to know how many other people will be there so she can make sure that there are plenty of refreshments as well as seating,” Mother replied. “Captain Elrond, I need to inquire if you or Ms. Jythee have any food allergies.”

“Like most humans, we are allergic to Spican seafood, but other than that, we should be okay,” Arivan replied. “Thank you for asking.””

“You are welcome, Ms. Jythee. Prime Council, Minister Bedouin and Vice Councilor Jorga have acknowledged your request. Councilor Carlyle has replied that she will be ready,” Mother replied.

“Thank you. General Greenwold; I would like you to accompany us and bring along any security and intelligence folks you might have. We need to figure out what the big lizard is up to before we're all made extinct!” Ben said, leading the way out of the room. ““I would like you to be there as well, Addson.”

ER/SAR Command and Control ship Tiderius

Sector 3421 (1 1/2 miles south of the Great Falls crater.)

Terral III, Duchy of Cassius (Earth)

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

“This is the same location I conducted my search for survivors, Commander. At the time, it was as close as we could get to the site of the explosion.” Warmake said, addressing the smaller human beside him.

He had no real opinion about humans being in the HRO, except for a slight feeling of pride for the race. It was about time the humans were allowed to integrate. He knew his Lord hated humans except for lunch, but in his experience, they worked just as hard, if not harder than their non-human counterparts, just to overcome the bias that they had been faced with.

To see a human not only in the HRO, but commanding a team was an accomplishment that should have been a source of pride for the race. Unfortunately, he knew that most of the race would never know of her achievements unless they met her in her professional capacity.

“I've read your report, Task Commander. It was very thorough. I especially appreciated the high-res, false color images you had taken of the area. Did you notice what looked like a path leading off to the south, toward the Inland Sea?” Jance asked.

“Well, I wasn't exactly sure that's what it was, but I had the boys and girls try to follow it. Unfortunately, they lost it thirty-one units north of the coast. As a follow up, I had a brace of skippers fly the coastline for eighty units in both directions from where we thought they might have come out. They didn't find anything but sand, and couldn't re-establish the trail from that end either.””

Jance nodded. “What about the Satellites?”

Warmake shook his head. “This whole area was under a thick cloud cover because of the Aerie being in operation at the time, thermal was pretty useless as well. Then, once the explosion happened, the whole sector was too hot.”

She nodded. The man did know his business. He also did more than required of him, just in case. The people of this planet were lucky to have a man like this watching out for them. Too bad they'll probably never know. Maybe the other commanders will adopt some of his work ethic.

“We know this attack was staged from the ground, as were the train robberies. Where was this Addson Dee when she was shot down, and what was she doing there?”

Turning to his pilot, Warmake said, “Take us to Sector three-four-seven-one and do a slow circle of all four quads.”

“Yes, Sir,” the Pilot replied.

Replying to the HRO officer, Warmake explained. “Upon the initial report, we believed her to be on a routine prospecting mission. However, we later discovered that she had just been transferred from Great Falls Aerie to Argassi's Anti-Piracy Command. She was sent out on a recon of the sector. She was alone and in an unarmed skimmer. She hadn't even sat down at Argassi before she was sent out here.”

“On the surface, that sounds incredibly too coincidental. Why was she sent out like that?” Jance asked.

“It was thought that since she was known as a prospector from Great Falls and her skipper was set up for deep-water scanning, she would be mistaken for exactly what she was; a simple prospector,” Warmake explained.

“I can see the logic of that, but to leave her out there all alone, with no help in the area. I would question the wisdom of that action. However, that is none of my concern. Since she was doing a recon, then a satellite was at least providing cover. Did we get a location for the missile's launch point?”

Warmake seemed to cringe. “No. She was sent in while a storm system was building in the sector. I did check, but for some reason the orbital's infrared and launch tracking facilities were off-line. The explanation I got was the bird was in use by the Met department. They had disabled those two functions so they could use the storm track programs.””

He paused and lowered his voice. “It sounded like lizard bait to me, but I really doubt the pirates would be so organized as to have an agent in the Meteorology department to cover for them 'in the case' that something like this would happen.”

Jance frowned. “Yet they had managed to get access to military grade weapons that have no place on this planet to begin with. Do you have any theories on how they got those?”

“A private theory, nothing more,” Warmake said.

“Please, share it.”

“Well, pirates like this don't just up and decide to start raiding and killing one day. I figure that they had to come from off planet, in which case, perhaps they had hit a military transport of one of the house military's. That would explain their weapons and some of their resources,” He said, then shrugged. “I'd never heard of such a transport ever being attacked, but I suppose it could happen.”

“All such raids and attacks are supposed to be reported to the local office of the HRO. I assure you, we know of no such raid,” Jance said.

“Well, no, you wouldn't. You see, you have to think like one of the Dukes; I mean, none of them would want it known that one of their transports was hit. It would make them look weak and the other Dukes would begin to stage a few of their own raids if you know what I mean. Hell, the black market has to get its supplies from somewhere right?”” Warmake explained.

Jance gave him a small smile. “You are very perceptive, Task Commander. I'm beginning to believe your skills are being wasted here.”

Warmake snorted. “If I'm so damn perceptive, then you should have only had to pick up the pirates after I'd captured them for you.” He snorted again, this time in frustration. “There is something missing here and I'm not seeing it! It's driving me mad!”

“Perhaps we can help each other. What part of this is bothering you?” Jance asked.

“These pirates; they hit a few supply trains, or raid a floater, but they've never gone out of their way to hurt anyone. Now, all of a sudden, they blow the shielding on an Aerie reactor? Why? Where is the payoff?” Warmake explained.

“What about the victims of the train robbery? They died did they not?” Jance asked.

He nodded. “But that could just have been base stupidity on their part more than negligence of the pirates. The tower that the pirates stopped the tram at had a survival station built into its base. There is only one of those stations per sector on the train line. They could have stopped the train anywhere along that line and simply thrown the passengers off. No, they picked that location on purpose.

“Surveillance cameras confirm that the passengers entered the station. It was their choice to leave it, and against the posted instructions too, I might add,” Warmake explained. “None of the floaters they've raided had a crew, so no one was hurt there.”

“What about the Addson Dee incident? Firing a missile at someone is a pretty obvious thing to do,” Jance replied.

“Is it?” Warmake said, warming to his explanation. “That particular missile system uses a multi-spectrum tracking suite by default. The only possible way a skipper could have avoided even the first missile was if it had been intentionally programmed to restrict itself to optical search mode. Addson Dee managed to evade two of the missiles,” he paused. “I think it was because they were trying to scare her off, not kill her.””

“That doesn't track for me, Task Commander,” Jance replied. “If they were only trying to scare her off, there are hundreds of less lethal ways to do it.””

Warmake nodded. “Yes there are, but not too many of them are possible during a storm of that size. Even the floater that proved Addson's ultimate bane diverted after the collision. I don't know if you're familiar with floaters, but it takes a serious weather event to turn one of those aside.

“At the time of the attack, three of the four quads of the sector were in the full fury of the storm. The storm itself covered the better part of nine sectors! That's the reason rescue attempts were so slow in responding; it was too dangerous for them to search until after the storm passed and by then the wreckage was spread over the entire sector.””

“Are the pirates not listed as responsible for her death?” Jance asked.

Warmake nodded. “Yes they are, like the passengers from the train, she was put in harm's way by the actions of the pirates. In both cases it proved lethal, thus ultimate responsibility must rest on the pirates. However, I would counter that she wouldn't have even been there if she hadn't been sent, at the last minute, by the Aerie Argassi APC.””

Jance was thoughtful for a time. During her silence, the pilot reported that they'd arrived in Beta Quad. Below them was the solid form of a floater with the impact marks still showing on its side.

“Is that the original floater?” Jance asked.

Warmake nodded. “Yes, according to its logs, this is where the impact happened. On board cameras managed to capture most of what happened to Addson's skipper. Her maneuver was risky, but she did manage to evade the missile. If she would have started her leap even microseconds earlier, she would most likely still be alive.”

“Doubtful, if she had survived the jump over the floater, the third missile would have launched and finished the job. No, once that system had been locked onto her, she was doomed. Which is why I disagree with your hypothesis; that system has four missiles.

“Once the target is locked onto, the first missile launches. All of its data is passed to the three remaining missiles. If it misses, the second is launched. It hunts smarter, and so on, all the way to the last missile. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever survived the third missile. However, I don't think I've ever heard of a person in something as limited as a skipper surviving even the first one,” Jance explained. “That being said, I have to credit your hypothesis because the warhead of the missile that hit this floater had to have been greatly retarded.”

“We credited the lack of damage to the floater to the fact of its construction. They have a duraluminum outer shell, over a tritium-fibersteel inner hull reinforced with magnetized Cryotanium polymer,” Warmake explained. “They're built to handle just about anything they can run into.”

“Damn! That is really built, but even so, if the warhead was at full strength, it would have seriously damaged it. No, this warhead was all but disabled; hell it could have been disabled and the scoring we see is from the flight motor,” Jance replied. ““Thank you, Task Commander. I think perhaps I have enough to begin my investigations now. May we please return to Argassi?”

“Of course, Commander. Would you also like the floater returned there for further investigation?” Warmake asked.

“Yes, thank you. I would like to run forensic analysis for the impact site as well as the areas where the skipper hit.”

Warmake typed in the request on his data pad, and below them the floater came to life. Without being told, the pilot also turned the craft and accelerated away from the area.

Bedouin residence

Command Pod Alpha One

23 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

Ben stood in the middle of the room. “Before we begin, I would like to make introductions.” He waved his hand as he introduced each person. “These are our guests, Captain Elrond Coir; the current chief of the group known simply as 'the Pirates'. Beside him is his lady, Ms. Arivan Jythee.” He introduced the rest of the people to the newcomers and greetings were exchanged.

However, before Ben could get to the meat of the discussion, Councilor Carlyle asked a question. “Excuse me, Prime Council. I don't mean to sound rude, but I thou' th' goal of yon raid was to gather information prior to eliminatin' them?”

The news was clearly a shock to the two new people, but Ben didn't miss a beat. “That was the original plan, Councilor. However, things have changed. Thus, the reason I included you in this meeting is for you to act in the capacity of Council Adviser. We need to figure out how this will affect us and what to do about it if anything.”

“I understand,” Councilor Carlyle nodded. “Thank ye for askin' for me, then,” she said. “I ken you wanted me because of me post-fall profession, then?”

Ben nodded this time. “Yes I did. We do have other former intelligence operatives among our people, but you are the only one I know and trust personally.

“So, here is what we know, suspect, and believe,” Ben began. “First, before we made the raid on the base, we suspected that the Duke was the primary behind all the attacks on the surface. Elrond has confirmed that for us, but can offer no proof. Thus, we still can only speculate on his motivation for these actions.

“I believe he's planning a coup against the Empire itself. Now, this is mostly conjecture on my part and I have no proof. I've given this a lot of thought and it’s the only conclusion that fits.

“However, those actions, made through Elrond and his people, have attracted the attention of the local Imperial Rangers. They landed two days ago to investigate the destruction of the Great Falls Aerie. So now we have a new element added to the mix.

“I'm told these Rangers are very good at their jobs, and there is now a very good chance that Elrond, his people, and by extension, us, will be discovered. However, that runs counter to my theory of an Imperial attack,” Ben said and paused to take a drink of his cappuccino.

“Why's ta' odds with yon theory?” Carlyle asked. "I'm not trackin' yer logic Prime."

“Simple; the Duke had to have known that destroying an Aerie would bring in the Rangers. If he planned to attack Hyclarion using Earth as a staging point, the last thing he would want would be for Rangers to look under every rock. Also, he recently ordered Elrond to kill the team, and capture their leader. That action by itself would bring even more Rangers and they would be even less gentle than this team is being. His preparations would be discovered and he'd be found out.”

“Uh, p-Prime Council, I think I might have some more information,” Elrond said, hesitantly. “You see, all the ohto and other stuff we stole had to be given back. One of my people that handled a lot of the shipments told me that there were hundreds of House Tammerain troops already here at the underwater base where we returned our cargoes. He said there seemed to be more every day. The transports were all parked on the bottom of the sea surrounding the base. If the HRO does any planetary scans looking for us, they should find them quite easily.”

“What type of scans?” Marci asked.

“Multi-spectrum, broad bandwidth, ultra-high resolution scans. Everything from thermal differences to energy signatures to neutrino particle density,” Elrond said, shrugging. “That's why I was so scared they would find us. We should show up like a super-nova in the void.”

“Energy scans on this planet are inconclusive," Addson added, shaking her head. "There are too many random energy flares from all the ruins. There are literally billions of energy signatures spread all over the planet.”

“Surely they can tell the difference between random pulses and a fully functioning reactor?” Carlyle asked.

“Not really, you see the Ancients... uh, I guess that's you folks, used a lot of fission reactors. The waste from those crude devices is still creating energy even after all these years. A really huge power signature was detected once on the Aramic Plateau and was investigated. No one really understood what they found, but later discovered to have been a special dump for the spent fuel of fission reactors.

“Thirteen prospectors had died digging down to it. It finally had to be disintegrated just to get rid of the lethals. Since then, no one pays much attention to energy flares and the like. No one wants to deal with them, so they just leave them alone,” Addson replied.

“Well, I guess now we know why no one ever dug one of us up. But still, if someone starts investigating the energy signatures, we're going to be in trouble,” Kaitlin said as she carried a platter of sandwiches into the room.

“True, but there are other ways to track things,” Elrond said. “Whenever a craft or ship passes through an area, it always makes some form of disturbance. Depending on the local conditions of the area, that disturbance can be detected and tracked with the right tools. So, the more we move around, the easier it is for someone on the surface to track us.”

“Are you talking about that Neutrino thing you mentioned earlier?” Ben asked.

“Well, that's one way to do it, but not what I was thinking about. Tracking ocean currents or looking for micro-changes in the atmosphere both above and below water; of course both of those methods become unreliable if enough time passes,” Elrond explained. ““May I ask a question that's off topic?”

“Yes,” Ben replied.

“Why would you attack us? We didn't even know you were here,” Elrond asked.

Ben looked thoughtful for a moment. “Because of your proximity. Our survival is fully dependent on remaining undiscovered. We have a very large population that have no desire to become anyone's vassals. Besides, we feel that this is our planet and from the way we understand things on the surface and in the Galaxy, just coming out from hiding wouldn't be any guarantee that we'd be left alone. We want our planet back and we want our own autonomy. This is the home world of the human race. We originated here. We deserve the same rights as everyone else in the Empire.”

“How large is your population? For that matter, how large an army do you have?” Arivan asked.

“I'm sorry, Ms. Jythee. I think we need to keep that information to ourselves for now. I do feel that I can trust you, but there is too much at risk for me to take a gamble like that,” Ben replied. “I hope you can understand that. I really don't mean to be rude.”

“Well, I thought I'd ask, since you know all of our secrets...” she replied.

“Excuse me, but did you say this planet is our home world?” Elrond asked.

Ben looked at Addson. “Why don't you tell them about what you've learned about us, but please don't mention anything about our people or how we live?”

The young woman bowed her head to him. Then looked at Elrond. “After you fired those missiles at me and I crashed into the floater, I was in pretty bad shape. In fact, not all of my injuries have fully healed yet.

“But when they came to rescue me, I thought they were the pirates originally. If I had had a working comm system, I would have reported everything that was going on. Luckily, I didn't, because that would have gotten these people discovered. Once they opened the escape pod, and started helping me, I knew that these people couldn't be the pirates because they cared."

Elrond winced again during her explanation; embarrassed about his part in her 'death'.

She continued. “The emergency medical AI in the skipper managed to find a common form of communication so we could speak to each other. That really threw me; I mean who could these people be that they didn't speak standard?

“A lot of the equipment they were using wasn't familiar to me, but what was seemed really old or functioned in an odd manner. What they told me about who they were was impossible for me to believe. I mean how could they have been here all along and no one have discovered them?

“I've seen the cryo units. The medical AI confirmed that the information stored in this AI matched what I'd been told. However, it also said that while the Base AI was of an old design, it was far more powerful than any other AI currently functioning.

“I've seen their maps of this world from their time. Every discovery we've made matches the location of one of their cities or large communities. However, there are quite a few that have yet to be discovered. I was a prospector up until you shot me down, so I know what I'm talking about here. These people are part of the original inhabitants of this planet,”” Addson finished.

Elrond nodded. “I believe you. But what I'm wondering is, if this is our world, why hasn't any proof of it been discovered in the ruins?”

“Aye and there's the rub. Evidence o' plenty was left, tah be sure. So then becomes the question of who does the lookin'?” Carlyle asked.

“All of the dig teams work for the Duke. They have to; it's his world, which means that everything on it is his,” Addson replied. “Not such a big surprise there. If it were proven that Earth was the home world of the Human race, he would lose a very profitable planet, millions of slaves, as well as the only habitable planet in this sector."

“Okay, so I think it’s safe to assume then, at least for the time being, that the Duke is the main bad guy here,” Ben said. ““Now the questions are why, and what's his next move?”

“The Duke has made no secret of his dislike for humans,” Deirdre said. “He thinks we're nothing more than a food source. You said that this Ranger team was led by a human, right?”” She asked looking at Elrond.

He nodded. “Yes and he was very specific in his instructions, should we have to kill her.”

“So, what are the chances that something very embarrassing to the Duke happened between them?” Deirdre asked.

“I just don't know,” Elrond replied. “It's possible. That would certainly explain his instructions and the speed he wanted them carried out.””

“So, is his ego and hatred for us enough for him to justify endangering his over-all plan?” Deirdre asked.

“Yeah, it is. If a human embarrassed him, he would stop at nothing to destroy that person as publicly as possible. It might be possible that he realized this and has ordered us to ignore his last orders, but I doubt it. He's rather blind when it comes to humans,” Elrond added.

“Tis then most probable that his plan is to attack the Hyclarion Emperor and the rest of this is just a bit of fun thrown in to appease his bruised ego. Must we then follow the belief that he needs be tah get rid of yon Rangers in such a way as to justify the arrival of 'new' troops to this planet,” Carlyle said. “What force would he need to make such an attack successful?”

Ben shrugged. “We have no way to know how well defended the Capitol is, nor do we know exactly how many troops and warships the Duke can use.”

“Aye, but we have to assume that both are a great many. Friend Addson told us what the lizard’s Marines are like. How many and of what type. More importantly, how many of each are already here on the planet, or even in this system,”” Carlyle said.

“I'm just playing devil’s advocate here, but what can we actually do about it? What do we really know about the Hyclarion? Are we sure we want to help them?” Jorga asked.

“I don't think we have much choice about helping them. The alternative is letting the Duke make his attempt. Besides, if we can either stop the Duke or disrupt his attempt, I think we would gain some serious good will with the Emperor; which we could use when we voice our claim to this planet.

“If we do nothing and the Duke is successful, every human in the galaxy will become a food source for the lizards. I'm pretty sure that would be high on the list of really bad things. As for what we can do; well, let’s just say that for the last few years of the Fall, it wasn't the Sal'andori we were fighting.”

“Really? Who was it?” Deirdre asked, surprised.

“T'was the Lizards, my Deirdre,” Carlyle said. “And we were winning.”

“So if we were winning, why did we abandon the surface?” Deirdre asked.

“The war with the Sal'andori had damaged the planet too much to sustain life. The continued war with the Lizards didn't help either. Besides, we had already begun the exodus. Only by then we knew that the Lizards were intercepting the transports, so we changed the trajectory and started providing escorts for the transports.” Ben sighed. “However, that was ten thousand years ago. I'm sure Lizard technology has made a few improvements since then, while ours hasn't.”

“I'm pretty sure we could help with that, provided you have the means to fabricate the parts of the weapons systems and shield generators,” Elrond said.

“Why would ya be offering tah help us? What's your angle here?” Carlyle asked.

Elrond gave her a sad half-smile. “We've been trying to find a way to get out from under the Duke's claw from the beginning. If this is truly our home planet, then that would be a cause I know my people would want to be a part of.” He sighed. ““As it is now, we're dead. Because there is no way we would attack a Ranger team.”

Addson snorted. “But you'd destroy a fully populated Aerie?”

Elrond finally turned on her, he had tears in his eyes. “That gods-be-damned Aerie was supposed to be evacuated!” he yelled.

Fighting to get his voice under control again, he proceeded. “We knew the manager would ignore the warning message and make a report. We set a small charge at the base of the main shaft to shake the Aerie enough to scare them into evacuating; that's all! Once everyone was gone, we'd return and place the demo charges and destroy it. But something happened! The fucking main reactor detonated when it should have scrammed! If it helps, we lost the entire demolition team as well!”

He looked Addson right in the eyes. “As for what we did to you. We had to make the attempt. However, we retarded the warheads, and restricted the missiles to optical only seek mode. Yes, the missile impact would have wrecked your skipper, but you should have survived it! I know you didn't know it was a sham, but if you weren't such a good fucking pilot, the rescue folks out of Argassi would have flown out and picked you up.

“Yes, the Duke would have been furious, but at least we wouldn't have killed you. I know you won't believe me but you will simply never know how happy I am to see that you're still alive!”

Ben nodded to himself. “I think I should address the council and fill them in on these new developments. As for what to do next; I think I might have a couple thoughts on that as well!”

Chapter Three

“Looks like dog shit.”




“Smells like dog shit.”




Cheech Marin & Tommy Chong from ‘Cheborneck’ comedy skit.

Argassi Aerie

Anti-Piracy Command, Regional Headquarters

Terral III, Duchy of Cassius (Earth)

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

“Task Commander Warmake, are these the scans of the inland sea I asked for?” Commander Jance asked.

He peeked over her shoulder, and looked at the time/date stamp on the bottom of the page. “I believe so, Commander. Is that not the time and date you asked for?”

Jance nodded. “It is,” she said and picked up another file. “But please look at these. Do you notice anything peculiar about them?””

Warmake took the offered folder, and began scanning the images. Jance slid the new scan in alongside a scan of the same area, only dated two months earlier.

Warmake looked them over, closely. Then triple checked the date codes. “They're identical. Right down to the wave positions.” he walked over to a console and pressed a button. “Scanning section, please.”

“Planetary Surveillance, how can we help you?” a voice said.

“Good evening. This is Task Commander Warmake of Argassi APC. I recently requested a scan of the inland sea. South of where the Great Falls Aerie was located,” he said.

“Ahh, yes sir, I see the order for it right here,” the voice said.

“I think there has been some kind of mistake. The scans you sent me as new, are identical to the ones I ordered two months ago. Would it be possible for you to transmit the scan I requested? It's vital to an ongoing investigation,” Warmake said.

“I don't understand how we could have done that and I'm truly sorry it happened. I'll fill your request and transmit it myself, that way I'll know you're getting the correct one. If you'll give me a couple of units, Task Commander; I'll make sure you have the correct one. Would that be satisfactory?”

“That would be very satisfactory. You've been very helpful, thank you,” Warmake said and closed the connection.

As he turned back to Jance, he spoke. “There, that should get the one we asked for. They're usually pretty good about sending what was asked for.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Something else occurred to me, Commander.”

“Oh?” Jance said, looking up at him.

“In all the incidents attributed to these pirates, save the last one, the victims have been humans. That strikes me as strange; after all humans are only one of the races on this planet and not the most populace one at that,” Warmake explained.

“I have also noted the same thing. However, that still could be simple coincidence, Task Commander,” Jance replied, frowning. “I am starting to get that feeling you told me of before; the feeling that we are missing a very important part of this puzzle.”

“I thought it was because I was obsessing over this case too much. I am relieved you are feeling this as well. I was beginning to worry over my objectivity in this. Before you arrived, I was considering dismissing myself,” Warmake replied. ““Perhaps now I can set that aside.”

She nodded understanding. Warmake’s species made excellent investigators, but they did have the tendency to obsess. The fact that he realized this made him exceptional. They were also built to take the most brutal punishment. TC Warmake would make an excellent Ranger, provided the military didn't get wind of him first.

“You continue to surprise me, Task Commander. Have you ever considered applying to the academy?”

“I'm afraid My Lord Duke would never allow such a thing. I believe you already know he has very little respect for your institution. Besides, I know my weaknesses and obsession is not a trait that makes a good Ranger,” Warmake replied, sighing.

“This is true, but perhaps not in your case. If you would care to apply, I would be willing to sponsor you. We need more clear-heads in the Corp and knowing one’s own weaknesses is a very valuable trait,” Jance replied.

An under commander approached the two investigators carrying a packet. “Please excuse the interruption, Commanders. I believe you wanted this right away.” So saying, he offered the packet, before bowing and retreating.

Task Commander Warmake took the packet and nodded his thanks to the underling. However, upon opening the packet and examining its contents he grew agitated.

“What is this? They sent us the same scan!” Warmake said and turned back to his console.

“Commander! Please wait.” Jance said, stopping Warmake before he could once again call the surveillance section.

“I believe another call would be fruitless.” She held up a hand to forestall his reply. “I don't believe this is the fault of your Surveillance section. I think they believe they are sending you the correct data.”

“How so?” Warmake asked reasonably.

“I did not detect any duplicity in the person's voice that you spoke to, did you?” she asked.

Warmake shook his head. “No, but there could be a flaw in the computers, or the satellite. They need to be made aware of this so it can be corrected immediately.”

“Perhaps, but I propose to you that perhaps it isn't a mechanical failure,” Jance replied. “That would certainly explain the piece we are not seeing would it not?””

Task Commander Warmake looked uncomfortable. “Are you suggesting that there is corruption in the Duchy?”

“Do you know of a Duchy in the Empire that isn't corrupt to some degree?” Jance replied. “I know it doesn't sit well with you; because of your position, you have to have faith that what your superiors are telling you is the truth. However, I do not share that bias at this level.”

“If what you say is true, how would we prove it?” Warmake said looking around the room to see who might have overheard them. “You do know I could be hung for treason for even discussing this with you?”

“If I can prove these scans have been faked, I'll place you under a federal protection warrant. If Duke Tammerain interferes, he will swing in your place,” she said with the utmost faith in her authority.

“But, what would he have to gain by arranging for all of this to happen? What of the pirates? Does this remove them from prosecution?” Warmake asked.

“No, the pirates will have to answer for the crimes they've committed, but they will do so in federal court and I can present my evidence that will allow the court to ascertain their amount of culpability in these atrocities.”

Warmake shook his head. “So how do we go about gathering this evidence, if it exists?”

“By doing what I came here to do; catch the people responsible for the destruction of the Great Falls Aerie. Who knows what odd facts that we will uncover between now and then. But we do have a place to start.”

Warmake looked at her sharply. “Where would that be?”

“In orbit. We need scans of this planet that have not touched any of the computers here. I have a feeling we will find something extraordinary there,” Jance said, her eyes twinkling.

Warmake shook his head. “Or not; this planet has some strange quirks you may not be aware of.”

“Oh, like what?” Jance asked.

“Well, first off, you'll have to disregard most of the energy signatures here. The ancients that lived here used a great deal of fission for power, this spent fuel is still lethal. They also had literally billions of smaller, long lasting power supplies, spread out all over the planet. The readings are, at best, unreliable, especially in or near the ancient cities,”” He explained.

“Amazing, why wasn't I briefed on this?” Jance asked.

“It's a planetary quirk. We are used to it and the data packet you received should have mentioned it.”

“Hmm, yet another strange omission. Thank you for clarifying that for me Task Commander, I would have wasted valuable time tracking them all down. I'll have some of my team get the scans. Meanwhile, I think we should take a closer look at shipping on this planet,” Jance said grinning.

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

24 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

After the greeting rituals, Ben got down to business. “Councilors, today, I come before you with a matter of grave importance. One that will affect our lives and our very safety here.” He paused a moment to gather his thoughts. He took a deep breath and told them everything he knew about the current situation. Then he called on Councilor Carlyle for her views and thoughts, which surprised a few Councilors.

“My Brothers and Sisters, the Prime called on me tah take my part in the questioning of yon people we captured from the pirate base. He did so because of my rather colorful past." She spoke slower so less of her accent was evident and the other Councilors could understand her better.

“I was born into the Irish Republican Army and grew to become one of their trusted commanders. It turned out that what I thought was to be a promotion, was actually a recruitment. I was trained by the Israeli Mossad, but worked for several allied intelligence services.

“A few years ago, for us at least, there was a change in the way things were done and I was to be retired. I managed to lose my assassin in Bangladesh and eventually made my way back to my homeland. Several former compatriots helped to create a new identity for me and I took a job as a junior researcher at Flanagan Industries. Unknown to most was the small fact that Sean Flanagan was my milk brother when we were babies, protector as we grew, and lover when things got hard.

“He worked with my new identity team to make sure I had the credentials to do my new job. Tom Bedouin knew all of this before he recruited me. He told me because of that and my scientific background, he wanted me for a special project.” She paused and took a drink. No one tried to speak while she did so.

“Last evening, the Prime asked me to use my former abilities. I can say with honesty, that I believe our... guests... are not being duplicitous. Helping them puts us a great risk, aye, but the intelligence gained about the world above would be invaluable,” she finished.

The first one to catch mother's circuits was Councilor Yoshi, who bowed first, as was his custom. “My Brothers and Sisters; I know you are all probably tired of my pacifistic ways, however, I feel the need to object, once again, to this entire course of action. I know it is far too late to leave these pirates alone, and even I realize something must be done about them at this point.

“So I ask all of you to think of the cost helping them will place on each of our souls. These men and women are admitted mass-murderers, and have admitted to several other acts of piracy in space. By providing aide, will we not then become a party to these atrocities simply by association? I propose relocating them to a place where these Rangers can find them and let them take it from there.””

Ben turned and bowed to Councilor Yoshi. “I do understand your objections Councilor Yoshi. In fact, that thought is why I brought this to your attention to begin with. However, I do have to disagree with your suggestion. They know we're here now, if we simply let the HRO take them, they will learn of us during interrogation and our security will be compromised.””

“Councilor Yoshi wishes to reply,” Mother said.

Ben nodded and looked around before he said. “Please, continue Councilor.”

“Thank you, Prime. I understand that will happen. That is part of the idea. You stated before that we needed to make contact with the Empire, so we may have the opportunity to prove our case before the Emperor. Would not the HRO be a safe method of achieving this?”

“Councilor Whitmore would like to be heard,” Mother said.

“Please proceed, Councilor,” Ben replied, but he was thinking about what Yoshi had suggested. It was a good idea and one he hadn't considered.

“Brethren, Councilor Yoshi's idea has a great deal of merit and I hate to do it, but I feel I must. Consider for a moment the situation from the stand point of these Rangers. They believe these pirates nothing more than murderers and cut-throats. Would such a being believe a story of a hidden civilization, told to him by someone wanting very much to avoid the gallows?”” She paused for that to sink in to everyone.

“Far worse, what if an agent of this Duke was present when the story was told? What would a paranoid Lizard, with delusions of being Emperor do with said knowledge? I do not believe he could take the chance that we are fiction created by the pirates. Especially since those very pirates actually work for him.

“Nay, the proposed action would have the same results as directly attacking this Duke. We would die or become slaves. I fear I would look atrocious with an apple in my mouth, and displayed on a silver platter!”

That comment helped to relieve the tension in the chamber. Councilor Whitmore was young and attractive, but that image hid a mind that was wise well beyond her obvious age.

“Councilor Pelowski would like to be heard,” Mother announced.

Ben only nodded and turned to the screen with Pelowski on it. “Prime Council, I feel we simply don't have enough information on these Rangers. Could we get testimony from our newest resident and our, uh Guests to this affect?”

“Is this the wish of the Council?” Ben asked formally and was surprised by the number of green lights. Even Councilor Yoshi agreed.

“Mother, would you invite Ms. Dee to this Chamber? Also have Captain Coir and his lady escorted here please?” Ben asked.

“At once, Prime Council.”

“Thank you, Mother.” He turned back to the Council. “While we await our guests. I have a request I would like all of you to consider. Not all of the people in the pirate organization are guilty of any crime. There are several wives, husbands and children whose only crime is loving one of the men or women involved in these crimes. I would like to help them, if nothing else.”

“I am told that the HRO cannot grant them clemency under the current laws of the Empire. Now that I am aware of this, I find I would feel guilty for their deaths if we didn't try to provide at least this much assistance.

“Rest assured that I will abide the decisions of this Council since our safety is at risk, but I have to ask,” Ben finished.

“Sub-Councilor Hines of Pod one-four-nine-three-nine would like to be heard,”

Ben looked at that Screen and nodded.

“Prime Council, forgive me, but, are you telling us that this Empire cannot differentiate between adults capable of doing these crimes, and children that had the poor luck to be present?”

“Perhaps, you should ask that of Ms. Dee and Captain Coir once they arrive. But yes, that is the way I understand Imperial Law. I hope I'm incorrect and this will be a non-issue, but I don't think I am.” He snorted. “In fact, if I understood correctly, all of us are guilty as well, simply because we haven't surrendered them to the authorities.”

Addson was the first to arrive since she had the shortest distance to travel.  When she walked into the huge chamber, she looked a little intimidated. Surprisingly, she followed the tradition that Marcy had started. The Council welcomed her and thanked her for coming. Ben guided her to the 'Witness' chair before returning to his place in the center.

“Miss Dee, again I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your day to come here. We find that we need some information regarding the HRO and Imperial Law. We understand you are not an expert in these topics, but you have more knowledge than we do, and we ask that you share that knowledge with us,” Ben said, trying to put the girl at ease.

“I'll help however I can, Prime Councilor. But you are correct, I'm no expert on anything other than prospecting,” Addson replied.

Ben nodded his understanding. “Can you tell us what you know of the HRO as an organization and Rangers as individuals?”

She thought for a moment. “The HRO and the HRH on Hyclarion are the Imperial law enforcement agency. Entry requirements are pretty stringent, and only a select few are accepted at the academy which is on Hyclarion as well as the Ranger Headquarters.

“By and large, Rangers are very even tempered, tolerant and - within their mandate - understanding. Within the laws of the Empire, they have tremendous power and the training to enforce it. They are not associated with the military, however, because one of the things they have to deal with at times are House militias, they are trained accordingly.

“My parents always told me that if a Ranger ever asked a question of me, that I should answer it to the best of my knowledge and ability, no matter what the repercussions of that might be. I should mention, because of what Captain Coir told you, that killing a Ranger is probably one of the dumbest things anyone could do.

“By reputation, Rangers are a clannish lot; killing one of them would be like someone killing your baby sister after violating them. A Ranger's death would bring, at the least, an Imperial Cruiser here and there would be Rangers and Imperial troops looking under every rock and behind every blade of grass,” Addson finished.

“Councilor Yoshi would like to heard,” Mother intoned.

Ben helpfully pointed to the appropriate monitor, so she could face him. When Yoshi bowed, the girl bowed in return, causing the man to beam a smile at her.

“Miss Dee, could you tell us what you believe would happen if we were to turn the guilty people from the pirate group over to the Rangers? Would the Rangers believe what Elrond would tell them of us?”

“You are hoping to make contact with the Empire through the Rangers?” Addson asked, proving her intelligence.

“We are considering that, yes,” Yoshi replied.

“I would not recommend it. While the Rangers are tolerant and understanding, the information would be treated as a tip on more criminals. At best, you would be guilty of not reporting your presence on this world to your Duke. Which would result in the HRO handing you over to Duke Tammerain for punishment.

“At the worst, the HRO would decide you are guilty of piracy after the fact since you didn't come forward immediately with the information of the pirate's location. In that case, you would most likely be executed along with the pirates. I'm afraid that your claim to this planet would be ignored unless you had overwhelming proof. Even then, your claim would be tainted by your association with the pirates,” she finished.

“Sub-Councilor Hines would like to be heard,” Mother intoned. Again Ben pointed for Addson who turned in her chair.

“Thank you, for coming, Addson. From your testimony, do we then assume that the members of the pirates that are not actually guilty would be tried as well, regardless of age?” Hines asked.

“That is an accurate assumption, yes. With the exclusion of very young babies that are too young to understand their actions and considering the crimes of those actually guilty, their punishment would include watching the execution of their families. I say this because of the destruction of the families that lived at Great Falls Aerie. One of the strongest tenets of the Imperial Justice system is for the guilty to suffer at least as much as their victims,” Addson replied, frowning. “I do not agree with it, but it does serve to limit the recurrence of crimes of this nature.”

“Councilor Rodriguez of Pod one-two-three-three would like to be heard,” Mother intoned.

After receiving permission from Ben, he asked. “Miss Dee, although you do not agree with it, do you think the dependents should be killed?”

This time, before Addson could answer, Ben stood. “I object to the question. I'm sorry Councilor Rodriguez, it is our responsibility to make that decision, not Miss Dee's. She is here simply to provide information for us so we may make our decisions, not to render an opinion on them.”

Rodriguez frowned but nodded acceptance of Ben's ruling. “My apologies, Miss Dee. I should not have spoken to you in such a manner.”

Addson only nodded, but she had gone pale. “Miss Dee, thank you for coming. Would you please remain in my home until we are concluded? We may wish to recall you, if that's okay with you,” Ben asked. Leaving his seat, he escorted her to the door.

She nodded. “Sure, thanks Ben.”

“For what? Putting you in this position?”

“No, for defending me,” she said. “You really are a good leader.”

“I tend to disagree with you on that, but thank you for the compliment. Could you ask Captain Coir or his lady to join us? It's their turn in the hot-seat,” Ben asked.

She nodded, kissed him on the cheek, bowed to the council and left. Ben took a deep breath and returned to his place.

“My Brethren, please keep in mind we are not here to condemn these individuals. It is not our job to see these people brought to justice. They are here to offer information, just as Addson Dee was.

“To this point, Captain Coir has been very helpful and forthcoming. He has answered every question put to him and has not attempted to evade or shirk his responsibility for his actions. I want you to remember that this man and his people have been backed into a very tight corner and forced to do this. Honestly, I don't know if I would have done anything different in his position. Please try to remember this when you are speaking to them.”

“They could have simply run away, Prime. They always had that choice,” Councilor Rodriguez said, quietly.

“No, they didn't. The Duke held their families hostage against their good behavior until they were in too deep to back out. Yes, they could have ran at that point, but ask yourself this; where would they be able to run too?

“They had no proof that the Duke had been ordering them to do these things. So anywhere they went in the Empire, they would be nothing more than escaped indentured servants. They would have been arrested and punished for their crimes, or returned to the Duke for his justice; which would amount to the same thing, except the Duke would probably have eaten them alive.

“You will never be able to convince me these people had any other choice. No, I do not and will not say they didn't perform these atrocities. They did and they admit it. However, it amounted to a do or die situation.”

“They still killed the entire population of the Great Falls Aerie, Prime. Would you have us absolve them of such a thing?” Councilor Hines asked.

“I ask all of you this; in a murder trial, who's on trial? The murderer or the gun he used to kill with?” Ben asked.

“Guns do not have the ability to decide right or wrong; they are a tool, nothing more. Whereas, your Captain Coir made the decision to do something he knew was wrong. It is not a valid comparison, Prime. A soldier has the obligation to protest obviously illegal orders, these pirates had the same obligation.”

“Really?” Ben asked. “For the sake of argument, let's say I have a gun to Councilor Whitmore's head. I order her husband to kill Councilor Yoshi, or I will kill her. Who is he going to object to? If he outright refuses the order, I kill his wife and then him because he disobeyed. What do you think he would do?”

“He could always complain to one of us.” Councilor Carlyle said grinning because she knew she was playing into his example.

Ben nodded. “That sounds reasonable. However, who among you would honestly believe that I would do such a thing? Would you take the word of Councilor Yoshi over mine? Would you take the word of one of our people? Would you if you knew he was also a convicted felon?”

Ben looked at the faces of the other Councilors. It looked like they were starting to get the picture. “Although far more complex, that is the situation Captain Coir and his people have found themselves in. They did what they could to stay alive and keep their loved ones alive. That is why I am asking you not to assume everything is as it seems, because it isn't.””

While he had been speaking, Jorga had escorted Captain Coir into the chamber and they both had heard most of what Ben had said. His escort whispered something to him and he shook his head as if to clear it before bowing as was traditional.

Ben looked at him and smiled in a friendly manner. “Welcome, Captain Elrond Coir of the privateer Bittertree.”

Elrond looked a little shell shocked. “Uh, Prime Council, when it comes time for me to answer before the Imperial court, could I call on you to defend my people?”

“From ye question, good Captain, does that mean ye wouldn't want yon Prime to speak to your defense as well?” Councilor Carlyle asked.

“No, Councilor. Although I did what needed to be done to save my people, I still gave the orders. The responsibility for those deaths is on my head alone,” Elrond replied, once the translation had been made.

“Be that as it may; we are not here to render that judgment today, Captain,” Ben said smiling kindly at the man. “We have a decision to make in regards to your people and we need more information.”

“Forgive me, Prime, but if one of those decisions involves the deaths of my people, then that is exactly what you are deciding today,” Elrond replied. He wasn't belligerent or even challenging; he was simply stating a fact as he saw it. ““You told me that part of your original mission was to simply destroy our base and leave sufficient evidence as to imply we did it to ourselves.

“In that way you would stop the search for us and in so doing, remove the risk of your own discovery. You would have been correct, it would have removed the threat of your imminent discovery, even though you will eventually be discovered.

“However, you didn't find the nest of evil men you thought you would find. Instead, you found a group of humans huddled together for safety against a tyrant that forces them to perform atrocities simply to stay alive.

“Now, you find that you are faced with a dilemma; kill a couple hundred innocent people to ensure your own freedom, or surrender us to the authorities and hope that our reports of you will go unheeded. Perhaps you are hoping that by turning us over, the Emperor will be more inclined to listen to your claim to this planet?

He nodded. “I can well understand your dilemma and I'll offer what aide I can in order for you to make an informed decision. I can only hope that you will choose not to allow our loved ones to die beside us,” he finished.

As usual Mother performed the introductions of the Councilors that had questions.

“Councilor Yoshi wishes to speak.” Ben pointed to the appropriate monitor, helping Elrond face the person questioning him.

“Thank you for helping us today, Captain.” Yoshi said bowing. “As I understand the issues before us; you have left out some important options available to us. We can simply relocate you and hope you remain undiscovered. Although that would seem very improbable at this point.

“We could return you to your base and abandon this instillation. Which would pose some rather tricky logistical issues that we may not be able to solve. Thus still leaving some of us exposed to discovery.

“Or, lastly, we could simply absorb you and your people and shelter you until such time as we are prepared to emerge from our exile. We understand that, by doing the last, we are also becoming accomplices after the fact, to any and all crimes you may have committed, even if we surrender you when we emerge, it would still have an effect on our claim.

“We could also make it so those guilty parties among you turn yourselves in if we offer to shelter and keep your loved ones safe with us.”

“Councilor Yoshi, May I interrupt you? I believe I have some information that we need to have before we continue,” Ben asked. Yoshi bowed his head in acceptance.

Ben read some more on his screen before he sighed. “Councilors, as per the original mission parameters, I had Mother invade and interrogate the pirate base’s computer system. I also added a further objective to her after Captain Elrond and the others were taken, which was to discover any traces of the messages Duke Tammerain had sent to these people.

“She has finished her initial analysis of the information she has gleaned. She has prepared a report for us. It is now available to us, but I would also like her to tell us her findings if you agree.” There were green indicators everywhere so Ben asked Mother to proceed.

“Prime Council, Councilors, and Captain; the information and assumptions in the report are the result of information taken from the pirate base’s main computer system, the main computer systems of the armed freighter, Bittertree, and the armed freighter, Nistian Dew. Further information has been gathered and extrapolated from interviews with Captain Elrond Coir and his companions, as well as testimony given by Addson Dee of pod zero-zero-zero-one-alpha. Additional external research garnered more information via the Imperial Internet known as the Infonet.

“I have discovered and have copied complete and intact messages from the Duke of Tammerain to Captain Coir, the Commander of the Bittertree and later as Commander of the group known simply as 'the pirates'. In these messages, he gives clear and detailed instruction as to the tasks required and makes references to harming other individuals, if the orders are not followed. Although he used an encrypted messaging system as well as voice maskers, I was able to retrieve copies of the original message dictated in his own voice. I would mention that the encrypted messaging and vocal masking system he is using is one developed for the United States Intelligence Services before The Fall.

“In addition to exonerating Captain Coir and his people, this posed more questions, specifically; why would Duke Tammerain do this to his own holdings? Several possibilities present themselves; none of which are as yet definitive.

"Possibility one; the Duke Cassius of Tammerain, who by all reports is perfectly healthy, has been told that he is dying and has begun the destruction of his holdings to leave little for the other Dukes to fight over. Such is the traditional way Dukes come to power among that race.

“Possibility two: although close to the first - differing only in that the Duke has gone insane and believes he is dying. However, this option must be weighed against the fact that no other part of his routine has been affected by this 'illness'.

“Possibility three; this remaining option is equally hard to prove but is also the most probable given the circumstances these actions have created. That the Duke of Tammerain is, in fact, setting the stage to over-throw the Emperor with a military strike at the Capitol of Hyperion Prime.

“Given the current disposition of forces within the Empire and if the Duke could bring all of his troops to this planet; and had a large attack fleet hidden within a light-day of Hyperion Prime, he could accomplish the destruction of the Hyclarion Empire once and for all time,”” Mother finished. "I would point out that the window for this opportunity is beginning to close; every delay risks the discovery of the hypothetical hidden fleet."

“We came to that conclusion too but, what of the Imperial fleets? Even if he managed to take the planet, they would simply return and retake the planet. Duke Cassius is a lot of things, but insane isn't one of them. Besides, why would he order us to kill a Ranger? That would bring more Rangers here resulting in the discovery of the troops he has already stationed here?”” Elrond asked.

“Captain: once the attack on the Capitol begins, the Imperial fleets would never make it to hyperspace. The other Dukes will destroy them, one by one. That would also remove the bulk of the Imperial ground forces, which are in transport ships accompanying the fleets.

“Logically, that would leave only one viable force in the Imperial arsenal that could oppose him or alter the outcome of his coup; the HRO. Given the almost legendary response when one of their own is killed, it would indeed bring a great number of the force to this planet. The very same planet where all of Duke Tammerain's troops are staging in preparation for the assault. If he has his orbital assault carriers in this system stuffed full of Marines, and rest assured, he does, then he could effectively decapitate the Empire within a week,” Mother said, reasonably. “Although it was thought to be a simple mistake made on the part of the Duke, as per Minister Bedouin's suggestion, it now appears as though the Duke had planned the death of a Ranger all along.”

There was silence in the room for a few moments before Ben spoke. “Mother, you said invasion had the highest probability. How certain is it?”

“Prime Council, the invasion plot currently has a probability of eighty-eight point seven-nine percent. It could be adjusted based on further information. Specifically, confirmation of the existence of a war fleet in the position previously outlined. Once the confirmation is attained the probability then jumps to ninety-nine point seven-three-five percent." Mother replied.

Elrond nodded his head. “He has the ships, but the only word I could get on them was that they were close by in a hidden location. The rumor said he has thousands of ships, which means that he has enough firepower, but it also means he has support from other Dukes because there is no way he could have built up that many without someone taking official notice.””

“Mother,” Councilor Carlyle said. “The order to kill or capture yon Ranger lass came in a few days ago. What are the chances yon beastie will become discomfited and do something rash?”

“While the order to kill the Ranger team might have been part of the plan all along, the choice of victim was decided when the Ranger team arrived on the planet. As a part of the Saurian culture of the Duke, the prominent presentation of the genitals is a mark of social status.

“When the Rangers arrived, the Duke insulted the lead Ranger, because she is human. As per her training, she ignored it and proceeded with the standard greeting protocols of the Rangers; which involves an edict from the Emperor demanding compliance with the Ranger's investigation.

"Because she is human, The Duke ignored her and the Edict and moved to push her out of the way to speak to the 'real' team leader. She resisted in a very painful and embarrassing - at least to the Duke - way. She paralyzed him by hatchet-kicking his genitals, then using her enhanced strength, threw him to the ground several feet away.

“While it is embarrassing that this happened at all, it is greatly compounded by the fact that it was a human female that did it. The Duke's honor demands satisfaction, but her position in the Rangers makes the outcome a foregone conclusion.

“I have done a great deal of research on the Rangers. Just to be clear; on matters of Honor, if she were to die in a duel, the Rangers would not retaliate in honor of their fallen comrade. However, in a duel with anyone other than another Ranger, he would have to be very lucky and the Ranger would have to be very sloppy for her to lose.””

“Thank you, Mother, you have certainly given us much to think upon,” Ben said. Then turned to the Council at large. “Brothers and Sisters, the whole picture has changed for us. I would make a motion to retrieve the rest of Captain Coir's people and offer them the option of joining our community.

“That, however, only answers part of this problem. What do we do with the rest of the information we have just learned. Would presenting this to the Rangers be a viable option? If we do nothing, how long do we have before the Duke will be ready to begin his attacks? Do we have sufficient resources to protect ourselves if the Duke discovers us first? These are critical decisions that we must deal with and decide as soon as possible.

“If you approve my motion, I suggest we adjourn for a brief period so I may issue orders and allow Captain Coir to return to his people and get them ready to move. The longer they remain exposed, the higher the chances of discovery or retaliation by the Duke.”

“Councilor Andre Stienbrunner, Pod eight-seven-seven-one.”

Ben nodded to the man. “Welcome, Brother.”

The man bowed. “Shalom, Prime Council. I would second your motion and agree with the intermission, however, I ask that it not be longer than ninety minutes. I feel a great urgency in this and our decisions will very well affect all of our lives permanently.”

All the lights in the chamber were green expressing unanimous agreement. “Very well, we will recess for ninety minutes, so we might ponder the questions that face us. Until then my Brothers and Sisters, may wisdom guide us.”

Chapter Four


- Any two-year-old

Bedouin residence

Command Pod Alpha One

24 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

“Captain, would you please accompany me?” Ben asked.

“Of course, Prime,” Elrond said.

Ben turned to Jorga. “Love, could you please pass the word for General Greenwold, as well as the rest of Elrond's companions. Have them meet us in my office,” Ben asked and Jorga immediately issued the orders through the network. ““Oh! And we're going to need Deirdre as well.”

Elrond smiled. “I can see why you're the leader now. You're damn good at it!”

Ben snorted as they got onto the elevator. “No, it only means I haven't screwed up and gotten anyone killed yet.”

“That's gonna happen no matter what you do, Ben. However, I honestly think you are the kind of person that will do his best to not only make sure of minimal losses, but also make sure it won't happen again,” Elrond explained. “Of all the people I know, and I know a lot of people, I can honestly say if anyone is going to get us through this, you will.”

“I appreciate your faith in me, but I hope you can understand that I honestly don't see the same things that you, and apparently everyone else, sees in me. All I've been doing is reacting to situations that have come up. I know enough about how things work to know that path leads to bad things,” Ben replied.

Elrond snorted. “Says who? Trouble comes whether you're ready for it or not. It's when you go looking for it that it is easily found. There is nothing wrong with reacting to adverse situations. In fact, it tends to make sure your actions are more decisive and less likely to cause a negative reaction.”

“Okay, I'm getting a headache!” Jorga said. “I'm getting some lunch.”

“Why don't you join the rest of us in my office, sweetheart? I'd like you there for this discussion,” Ben said, taking her hand.

“Okay, since you asked nicely,” she flirted.

“Prime, I was serious when I said that if you are going to be trying to get the human race a home world we would support you in it. I think it's a dream of every human, everywhere, to have a home world and finally have some status in the Empire,” Elrond said.

“Yeah, but if we succeed, how many of them will want to come running home? We can't risk the same ecological disaster we had before the Sal'andori Invasion. We have to do it smarter this time,” Ben replied.

“The Sal'andori? You actually know of them? They're mostly a scary story told to younglings to get them to behave!” Elrond said.

“Someday, when we have time to relax, I can show you years of war with them and with the Saurians, or Lizarrus, or whatever they are,” Ben replied.

“That was mentioned in our last discussion, did I hear correctly that you were actually beating them?" Elrond asked. "No one survives a Lizard Marine assault."

Ben shook his head. "As far as I can tell, they didn't use their Marines here. But to be fair, the planet had already begun to change and the global temperature had dropped significantly. The Commanding General noted that as a contributing factor to their battles with the Lizards. Honestly, it's a rather long tale."

Jorga picked up the narration. “Soon after we entered hypersleep, the remainder of our people fought against the Sal'andori. It was a fight we were losing. Then the Lizarrus, intent on destroying all trace of the Sal'andori everywhere, attacked the orbiting fleet and deployed troops on planet. At first, our people thought they had found a new ally, until one of our patrols discovered a group of Lizarrus sharing a meal.

“When we finally kicked the Lizarrus off the planet, the ecology and environment were damaged beyond its ability to sustain human life. The survivors of the human race, most of which had no idea we even existed, left the planet to try and reach a safe world they could live on in peace while the Earth healed itself.

“During the wars, several refugee ships had fled the fighting. These ships were how the Lizarrus learned of the Sal'andori and as it turns out, a new source of protein. The ships that left after our discovery of the Lizarrus headed in a different direction. Those that got through were picked up by Hyclarion warships and their occupants immediately arrested as Lizarrus spies.

"From what records Mother could find on InfoNet, our people were not executed as spies due to a lack of confirming evidence and condition of their vessels. So they were simply imprisoned and held pending the outcome of the war. It didn't work as planned.

“In the general confusion of the armistice and the surrender of the Saurian Fleets, Humans fell through the cracks. By this time, the human ships had been destroyed and humans, now little more than slaves, had forgotten who they had been and where they had come from.

“The general area of origin was known based on the recorded trajectories of the ships that were intercepted. The Lizarrus quickly claimed the displaced people as vassals, but the Hyclarion Emperor saw through the claim and decreed that under no circumstances were humans to be eaten, nor could they be kept as non-indentured slaves.

“The rest, I believe you already know,” Jorga finished. “Only we have the records to back all of this up; although they could be challenged as fabrications.””

“How long ago did all that take place?” Elrond asked, awed.

“Roughly eight-thousand years ago; just before the beginning of the current planetary ice age,” she replied.

Argassi Aerie

Anti-Piracy Command, Regional Headquarters

Terral III, Duchy of Cassius (Earth)

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

“Commander Jance, you've seen the new scans. How will you proceed?” Warmake asked.

“Very cautiously, Task Commander. I believe we have an area to search, but we have to do so in such a way as to not rouse suspicion. I had planned to impose on you and your pilot for a 'final' inspection of the Aerie site before I file my final report,” Jance said smiling. ““However, I would like to take some equipment with me, so would it be too much of a bother if we left the normal crew behind and only took my team?”

“That is a reasonable request. If we depart now, however, we will not arrive before sunset. You would be forced to work in the dark. If we depart tomorrow before sunrise, we can arrive at the location just after sun rise,” Warmake replied, in a somewhat snobbish way. He gave the Ranger a brief smile so she knew he was playing to an audience.

Jance gave a well-worn sigh and nodded. “Very well, Task Commander, but I want no more excuses. We will be in the air tomorrow by sunrise or I will forgo your assistance completely. As it is, I will be forced to report your reluctance in assisting us.” She rolled her eyes at him so he knew she was acting as well. “Thank you, you are dismissed.”

It was close to the end of the day shift, but it wasn't actually the end, so Warmake didn't leave. Instead, he acted slightly offended and walked over to one of the clerks operating a console. He thrust a file folder at the young operator. “See to it that this gets filed in the appropriate place.”

Inside the file was the second scan that Warmake had asked for, only modified to appear as if it had originated from the Ranger vessel. Neither Warmake nor Jance had any doubt that that file would be taken straight to another team to be scanned for any anomaly that would prompt the Rangers to wish to continue their investigation.

Warmake also knew that Jance had no intention of leaving this planet empty handed. Indeed, even he no longer knew who the victims were and who the perpetrators were.

Office of the Prime Councilor

Command Pod Alpha One

24 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

“Thank you for coming, everyone. Gail, I would like you to prepare to evacuate all the personnel from the former pirate base. If we have the room and can get them here without being detected; bring their ships as well."

Ben changed to a more formal tone of voice. “At this time, acting in my capacity as Prime Council and with the blessings of the Council of Elders of the Planet Earth, I am formally offering emergency asylum to the group heretofore known as 'The Pirates' via their leader, Captain Elrond Coir, of the Armed Freighter Bittertree, formerly a vassal craft and privateer to the Duchy of Cassius of the Hyclarion Imperial Consortium.

“Also included are the crew of the aforementioned craft and their families presently accompanying them, as well as the crew and families of the Armed Freighter Nistian Dew of the same aforementioned registry.

“Captain Elrond Coir, will you accept asylum with us, for yourself as well as on behalf of your people, in your capacity as their acknowledged leader, under the condition that neither you nor any of your people ever intentionally, or with knowledge of forethought, reveal any of the information entrusted to you without the leave of the Ruling Council, or myself as Prime Council?””

Arivan was standing there with her mouth open in surprise, while the other two looked really confused.

Elrond stood and replied formally. “I, Captain Elrond Coir, Master of the aforementioned Armed Merchantman, Bittertree, and as the agreed upon leader of the group known as 'The Pirates', which includes the Captain and crew of the aforementioned Armed Merchantman Nistian Dew and all the families and loved ones currently with said group, do hereby accept the offer of Emergency Asylum under the conditions stated by Benjamin Bedouin, acting as Prime to the Council of Elders of the Planet Earth.”

“It is so witnessed by Jorga Bedouin, Aide to the Prime Council, on this day, the twenty-fourth day of April, of the year ten thousand, two-sixty-six of the common era.” Jorga turned to Arivan and nodded to her.

'Uh, it, uh it is so witnessed by Arivan Jythee, former citizen of the planet Centris Nine, aide to Captain Elrond Coir, on this day, uh the... twenty-fourth of April, of the year ten thousand, two-sixty-six of the, uh, common era."

Mother intoned to all present. “The agreement has been officially recorded.”

Ben nodded and relaxed. “Okay, now that that's out of the way, Gail, I have a special mission for you, but first, the Captain and his friends will need transportation back to their base so they can have a chance to explain everything that’s happened and hopefully get his folks ready to move. He will need one of our subcomms with him so he can call for us when he needs it.

“I would also like it if he could take someone with him in the event he can't get all of his equipment ready to go. I would like them to analyze it, then scan it for replication at a later time. However, the priority is getting the people to safety. Retrieving their ships and equipment is secondary to this priority; understood?” Ben said.

“Completely, Prime, I'll get people right on it!” Gail nodded and moved aside to begin issuing orders.

Ben sighed. “I'm sorry; everyone must be really hungry...”

“I'm on it, dear, you handle business. What would you like?” Jorga asked.

“Uh, Garlic chicken with a side of cream cheese and crab meat wantons and some green tea please,” Ben asked. “Oh! And a glass of Mountain Dew; I'm going to need the caffeine.””

Jorga nodded to him and looked at Gail. “Want anything, General?”

“Same as Ben, but make mine General Tso's Chicken please,” Gail replied.

“Hmm, must be a theme tonight. I have an idea, since our new friends have no idea what to order. Give me a hand with the replicator, Gail?” Jorga asked.

Gail joined Jorga at the replicator to start carrying stuff to the conference table and setting the table for the meal.

Deirdre finally got Elrond's attention. “Excuse me Captain, but how many people are we talking about and how are they grouped?”

Before Elrond could reply, Mother did. “I have forwarded the information to your data pad, Minister.”

“Thank you Mother,” Deirdre said and moved over next to Arivan to speak with her quietly. “Hi again, it's good that the Council has finally figured out that you're good people. It's a pain in the ass I know, but we have too much at risk here to take chances,” Deirdre said.

“I think I understand, but can I know what 'too much to risk' entails?” Arivan asked. "I'm still really unclear on exactly what's going on here."

“This 'pod' is the smallest of about fifteen hundred spread out all over the planet. Our current population is just under two million at this point,” Deirdre stated and watched the woman pale in surprise.

“Sorry about the shock, but like I said; we really have to be careful. But the reason I wanted to talk to you before we eat is that it's my job to make sure everyone is taken care of, clothed and fed. Now, I see that you have a total of two-hundred and fifteen people, most of them families.

“We're going to have a temporary issue with housing. I think I can find housing for everyone, but not all of it will be in this pod. In fact, most of the folks will have to be in the other two pods in our group,” She explained.

Arivan began to object, but Deirdre stopped her. “Here, let me show you on my pad.” She touched the needed commands to bring up a view of the pod they were sitting in, showing them sitting in Ben's office.

She slowly backed the view out until Arivan could see all three pods and the edge of the military base. “As you can see, they really won't be that far away and they can come over here anytime they want. There are no limits or restrictions on traveling. The other pods aren't that far away and we simply don’t have the room in this one. Now that you can see it, do you think that'll be a problem?”

Arivan shook her head slowly. “No, that should be fine, as long as we don't split up any families.”

“I agree, I would never allow that to happen anyway. The apartments in the pods are modular so we can adjust them to the size needed for the intended family. Now, there is one other thing we would like to offer you, but I don't want you to be afraid of it,” Deirdre said.

“What is it?” Arivan asked just as Jorga announced dinner.

“We have a way of teaching people built into the hypersleep modules that we used to get here. The hypersleep function no longer works, but the sleep teaching does. You can check with Addson Dee if you have questions; she has gone through them. We can offer all of you at the very least our language, but we can also give you all the history we have as well,”” Deirdre explained as she guided her new friend to a chair.

“That is something I will have to discuss with Elrond. However, I think it might be something that will be accepted on an individual basis; at least at first,” Arivan replied. “Uh, I am unfamiliar with this food; it all smells wonderful.”

Jorga 'overheard' Arivan's last statement to Deirdre, so she stood. “I know our four new friends are unfamiliar with our food. However, I did check with Doctor Lyam as well as Alice, the emergency medical AI from Addson's skipper. All of you can tolerate these foods and nothing should make you sick. Since we all wanted this style of food tonight, I thought I would simply create a buffet and let you all try some of it and see what you like.

“I should warn you that some of it is spicy and some of it has a very subtle, delicate flavor. You are welcome to try it all. Please enjoy your meal,” she said as she sat down. Beside her was a pitcher of milk, and a couple of glasses to help cool down the over-heated mouth.

As the group ate, even the other two people from Elrond's group began to relax. By and large, the new people avoided the spicy stuff, although Arivan thought it was by far the best and enjoyed the more subtle foods.

Jentse, the other lady that had been taken with Elrond, loved the milk, but had to be excused to use the restroom as she discovered she was lactose intolerant. While she was gone, Deirdre had the replicator replace Jentse's glass with a drink that tasted just like milk and had the same vitamins in it, but was lactose free.

Conversation was a little slow because of the translators, but all the questions asked managed to get answered. Ben had to call a halt to the meal as he only had thirty minutes before he had to be back in the Council chamber.

As Jorga and Deirdre cleaned up the table, Ben pulled Gail aside. “Now, about that special mission I had for you; there is a person on the surface of the planet we need to keep track of. I believe Mother would be your best bet for now, but I'd like you to be ready to invite her to visit us here.”

“Sir?” Gail asked raising an eyebrow.

“I actually mean invite, Gail. I think she would put up a hell of a fight if we tried to abduct her. She's the leader of the Ranger team that's here investigating the Great Falls incident,” Ben said.

“Sir, I will, of course, do as you order, but I'm afraid I can't follow your logic on this one. Isn't she the last person we want to know of us?” Gail asked.

“Maybe, but there have been a few new developments that you might be unaware of. Mother has discovered proof that the Duke is the one that has been issuing the orders to Elrond and his people. She is eighty percent sure that this whole mess is all part of a plan the Duke has to attack and over-throw the Empire,” Ben explained.

Gail whistled. “Wow, you've been busy! Now your other orders make sense, but I'm still not following you on inviting the Ranger Commander down here for tea.”

Ben grinned at her. “Right now, she is the only person on this planet that has the power to make sure our evidence gets to the level needed to crucify the Duke for treason and clear Elrond's people of all charges.”

“Yeah, that much I got, but what about us? She'll be duty bound to report our presence here as well. We'll be toasted,” Gail said.

“No, we won't because that young woman will also be taking our claim of this planet, as well as all of our evidence to support it with her to Hyclarion. The upcoming events should present the best and quite possibly the only, chance we will have to claim this planet as our own. Anyway, I only want you to keep tabs on her, I don't actually want you to go get her until I have the chance to talk it over with the rest of the Council first,” Ben explained.

“Pardon me, Prime, General, but if you wish to follow this course of action you must hurry. The window of opportunity will be closing tomorrow. I have been monitoring the computer systems at Argassi. Task Commander Warmake of the Anti-Piracy Command will be escorting the entire HRO team on a final inspection of the destroyed Aerie site. She will be departing the planet sometime after that,”” Mother said.

“Huh.” Ben snorted. “I guess I better get my happy ass back to the Council Chamber and convince them of the need to do this. So much for getting any sleep tonight.”

Chapter Five

“Because, I said so.”

- Any two-year-old's mother

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

24-25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

“Good evening, brothers and sisters. I trust you all had a good break,” Ben said as he noticed all the lights switching from yellow to green.

“Before we recessed. We were discussing our options and possible actions, if any, in reference to the pirate issue and the new information uncovered by Mother. Councilor Carlyle; as a former Intelligence operative and later an Intelligence analyst, would you please share with us your thoughts on the hypothesis that the Duke is plotting the over-throw of the Empire?””

Councilor Carlyle bowed her head in acknowledgement and spoke slowly and clearly. “Since my inclusion in the initial interview at the request of the Prime Council, I have been in communication with two of my former colleges from the former intelligence agencies of the old world. All of us agree with Mother; however, we are more certain of the possibility then she is. Call it a gut instinct if you will, but we believe she is not only correct, but the Duke's plans are further along than even she can forecast.

“We can offer this advice to the Council; giving over the evidence of the Duke's treachery will undoubtedly gain us much favor with the Imperial court, provided they believe the evidence we have. We are still analyzing Imperial Law, to see if that will also clear yon good Captain and his people. Although, to our way of thinking it certainly would; that is no guarantee it would for an alien judicial system.

“We have also identified another, possible course of action for your consideration, but again, since we do not understand the laws, we have no idea how the result will be accepted.”

“What is the other course of action, Councilor?” Ben asked.

“We could simply assassinate the Duke, thus removing the threat to the Empire,” Carlyle said. “We ken that, 'tis far the easier task to beg forgiveness, than to ask permission.””

Ben nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you and your people for your advice in this. The question then becomes are we willing to cross that line? Are we willing to assassinate what amounts to a Head of State? When I arrived back down here, I was going to ask you all to let me invite the Ranger Commander down here to let us present our case to her in person. In fact, I've already asked General Greenwold to keep an eye on her in the event you agree.

“As we speak, our military is in the process of relocating the balance of the Captain Coir's people here. We are going to strip their base and seal it up. Their space ships will also be moved here, if it can be done safely.

“Mother is monitoring the computer systems at Argassi and has discovered that our window for action on my proposal is short; the Rangers will be leaving the planet tomorrow after a final inspection of the Great Falls site. We have much to discuss and little time. I would like to hear your thoughts. If you approve, I will spend the evening learning the new language to help insure there is no misunderstanding between us.”

“Councilor Andre Stienbrunner requests to speak,” Mother intoned and Ben nodded to him.

“Thank you Prime Council. Brothers and Sisters. Before the Fall, I was a professor of religious studies and theology at Yeshiva University in Jerusalem. As such, I apologize if I seem like I am speaking from a religious point of view. However, I do not believe that any of us could condone assassination without at least due process. I find even that to be abhorrent, but I can at least understand it.

“None of us are capable of making decisions without at least some form of religion playing a part whether we are aware of it or not. No matter what each of our belief systems actually are, the idea of killing someone cannot be an easy one to make. If it does seem too easy, then perhaps we do not have all the information we need to make that decision in the first place.

“It would be very easy to simply decide to assassinate this being and thus remove the threat of our discovery, as well as the threat to the Empire at large. But we must ask ourselves, do we have the right to make that decision? Does not this being at least deserve his day in court? Would it not also set a dangerous precedent and make it easier for us to say yes the next time?””

When he finished speaking, there was a general round of applause for his words as most of the rest of the Councilors agreed by clapping.

“I don't think we'll need an official vote to remove assassinating Duke Tammrain from the table. I'm not comfortable crossing that line either, so thank you all for your wisdom. Now, what do you think of getting the Ranger Commander down here for a nice long chat?”

Pirate Headquarters.

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

“Where the hell have you been? We were going nuts looking for the four of you!” Elrond's second yelled at him when he and the other three climbed off the shuttle. “Uh, who the hell you got with you?”

Elrond put his arms up on his friend’s shoulders. “I'm pretty sure they are the answer we've been looking for. Pass the word for a general meeting in the mess hall immediately.”

The man shook his head. “People are going to freak, but you're the boss.”

“Don't worry, I'll fill everyone in during the meeting. I'll introduce our guests there. Now, get moving! We have a lot to do and very little time to get it done!” Elrond said, grinning.

The man turned and began yelling for people. Elrond looked at the women that had accompanied them. “Come on, let’s get to the mess hall while we still can. Otherwise, it'll take us forever to get through the masses.”

“Masses?” Jorga asked.

“Well, not masses really, but everyone will want to welcome me back personally. We're a pretty close community,” Elrond said, but he was still smiling as he led them towards a side door.

Jorga soon understood what he'd meant when they got to the mess hall. While they'd been walking, they had heard an announcement about the meeting, so those that had been closer had made it there before them. The large room was filling pretty quickly.

Again, true to his prediction, many of those that had arrived before them had welcomed Elrond and his small group back. As kindly as he could and with many good-natured insults thrown back and forth, Elrond managed to keep the group moving up to the dais at the front of the room.

By the time they had made it to the front, the room had reached capacity and a little beyond. Jorga could see that the doors had been blocked open, and people were standing out in the hallways.

When Elrond's second got his attention and nodded, Elrond stood. The room quickly went quiet.

“Folks, you all know me and we all know each other. Because of the last general meeting we had, you know of the dilemma we are now faced with. I think I've found a solution for us, but it will call for each and every one of you to trust me like you never have before,” he held up his hands to forestall the immediate proclamations and vows.

“No, I know you trust me, but what I'm asking for this time will go far and away beyond that. What I'm going to ask you for is your complete and utter trust in my judgment of a situation that could very well kill every one of us; man, woman and child. I'm making a decision based on information the four of us,” he gestured to the four people that had been kidnapped. “Have seen and witnessed.

“Further, this is an all or nothing deal. We have to be fully united here, no one can decide to say fuck it and go their own way. This decision will also be irreversible. I honestly believe it will save all of us and we'll gain much, much more, but the risk is great.

“What I'm about to tell you will sound like a fairy tale. I assure you, everything you are about to hear is true. I do ask that if you have questions, please hold them until we're done. Also, can someone fire up the big pots? We're going to be here awhile tonight.”

“We're on it, Captain!” a large woman said. She and three others, two other women and a young man, began moving through the crowd that parted for her as best as it could.

“Thank you, Laren. A couple of days ago, Arivan and myself, as well as Jaric and Jentse, were kidnapped by a small team from a nearby hidden military base. Before any of you panic, this base and the people that control it are not part of the Empire and have no connection to the Duke of Cassius. Rather, they have far more to fear from those groups then we do. As to who they are, well, that's where it's going to get hard for you to believe. Even I had a hard time with it, but I swear to you, they really are who they say they are.

“We all know that this planet was inhabited by some unknown race thousands of years ago. In fact, there is a thriving business centered on recovering items from this lost civilization. This base is hidden in the ruins of one of their cities." He paused a moment. "Folks, I would like to introduce to you a member of that civilization; Jorga Bedouin.”” He turned and waved his hand to the softly smiling blond girl.

Jorga had gotten the language directly from the computer systems and had mastered it in seconds thanks to her nanobots. She was also in constant contact with Mother and the security forces at the base, as per Ben's specific orders. She stood and approached the front of the Dais with Elrond.

“Ladies and Gentleman, as Captain Coir has said, I am a survivor of the war that took place on this planet roughly eight thousand years ago. I was born in a hospital that once stood only a few klicks from where we are standing right now. The ruins that surround us are what's left of one of our cities. It was called St, Louis.

“We managed to arrive here, in your time, through the planning of one man. He built and equipped several thousand survival pods to ensure that our race would survive the war that destroyed our planet. We used what we call hypersleep chambers in pods buried deep beneath what was then the surface of the planet.

“Those chambers are not like the ones you may be familiar with; they did not put us into stasis as your current technology does. Instead, we were basically frozen and revived at a predetermined time.

“Because of a computer malfunction, our trip through the ages was far longer than we had planned, and many of us died during the extended sleep. However, I can prove to every single one of you that we are standing on the home planet of the entire Human race. A claim we have the records to back up with the Imperial Court on Hyclarion.

“I'll leave it to Captain Coir to explain the details, but my husband, Ben Bedouin, acting on behalf of our Ruling Council has granted all of you emergency asylum with us. We are willing to take you in, feed and house all of you. We will also do our very best to make sure that fat fucking lizard pays for his crimes against you,” she said, finishing. Jorga turned and nodded to Elrond who winked at her.

Elrond turned back to his people. “Obviously, there is a lot more to this story than we have time for at this point, but if you're interested, we do have unrestricted access to the history files in the computer systems of the survivors.

“However, right now, I need to tell you that I have accepted, on our behalf, the offer of asylum.” He had to hold up his hands again as several grumbles and objections could be heard. “I know, none of you know what's fully going on. Honestly, there isn't a damn thing we can do to correct that without going through with this.

“I want each of you to stop and think about this though; we will be joining these people as free citizens of the planet, of our planet. Not to mention the small fact that right now, there is a team of Hyclarion Rangers on planet looking for us. If they find us, and you know as well as I do that they will, we are all going to die.

“At the very least, by making this agreement, I have ensured that our families will be safe from prosecution if we do get caught. Part of the terms of this offer was an agreement not to share our knowledge of these people with anyone not of their enclaves before they can approach the Hyclarion court with their claim to this planet.”

Before he could continue, one man near the front, stood. “Elrond, do you trust these people with our lives?”

“Yes, Gerent, I do, without doubt or reservation,” Elrond looked the man directly in the eyes and answered without hesitation or reservation.

The man called Gerent nodded his acceptance of that answer, but looked at the rest of the folks on the dais. “Jeric? Jentse? What of you? Do you trust these people?”

Both of them stepped forward, but Jentse spoke first. “Yes, Captain. I was leery at first, because it all sounded... well, you know how it sounds! But, I've seen the pods, I've seen the hypersleep chambers. More importantly, I've met and talked with some of the people. Not the people that they wanted me to meet, but just random people I met in a hallway or in the arboretum. These are good people, Sir. I feel that we can trust them.”

Again, the Captain nodded acceptance of her testimony. “Jaric?”

“Sir, you know me, I was terrified at first. I knew these people were simply going to kill us or hand us over to the HRO to save themselves. When we first arrived, we got out of the ship into a huge military base. Sir, I don't have your military knowledge, but I know that base was very well armed. If they had wanted us dead, we would be. So I figured there had to be something else they wanted us for.

“They didn't take us to a holding cell, but to an empty apartment. They took the time to show us how everything worked and told us how to get information from the computer systems available in the apartment. They did leave a guard outside the door, but considering they didn't know us either, I guess I can understand that.

“Sir, they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and we had our questions answered. Yes, there was information they withheld, but they told us that there was and told us why they wouldn't talk about it. I don't trust easily, Sir. So I can't answer your question with a definite yes. However, I do think that, considering the circumstances, this is our best and safest option.””

Gerent looked at Arivan. “Do you have anything else to add?”

Arivan looked at the man. “I know we don't always agree, Captain. But that's what makes us the best advisers for Elrond. That being said, if you knew what we know, I'm certain you would agree that this isn't just the best option available to us, it's the only real option we have left. Yes, I do trust these people. I trust them not only with our lives, but with our future and our children's futures.”

Gerent looked at her for a long moment before nodding and turning around. “People. You have all chosen to follow us this far and we have done our best for you and yours. I for one, don't need to hear anymore and I don't think any of you do either.”

He was answered with several people nodding agreement. Jorga noticed that he was looking at certain people in the crowd. She was a little nervous when he turned back and looked up at Elrond.

“You said we had a lot to do; shouldn't we be getting to it, Captain?”

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

“I know it's getting late, folks, so please bear with me. As per our earlier agreement, I have ordered the relocation of the pirate enclave. We are setting up appropriate housing facilities for the refugees as we speak. I do not yet have a time line for this operation but I am told everything there is going very well.

“Neither of the two space ships will fit in the internal hangers of the base, but Mother has assured me she has the facilities to house them and keep them from being detected from the surface.

“However, we still have one remaining question before us, before we can call it a night. What to do, if anything, about the Ranger team. Currently, General Greenwold has located the Commander and can be set up to extend our invitation as soon as she arrives at the Great Falls site,” Ben replied.

“Councilor Brent Wemas of Pod four-three-six-five-alpha would like to be heard.”

“Thank you Mother, Councilor Wemas?”

“Thank you, Prime. Brothers and Sisters, I would advise great caution here. We are basing our decision on what we know of human nature. Commander Halst is human, yes, but she is as alien to us as the Hyclarion are. She is also duty bound to report us once she returns to her ship. By inviting her here and presenting our evidence to her, we are risking everything.

“We are hoping that she will see the wisdom of aiding us in our claim of this planet and of accepting the proof we have gathered about the Duke and the people called the Pirates. There is no guarantee that she will be inclined to do anything like that. She could simply call in a strike force and destroy all of us for aiding and abetting the criminals.

“This decision, more so than all the others combined, has the potential to end all that we have built here. We have had no dealings with this woman, or with the HRO. We have the assurances of both Captain Coir as well as Addson Dee that Rangers are fair and just. However, they must, first and foremost, uphold the laws of the Empire or they would be ineffective in their duties.

“I agree that we must do something and I have no alternative to offer you, but I can't help but feel this is a gamble we should not be taking. Perhaps if she were offered a meeting at a place other than one of our pods?”

“That would probably be better, Councilor, except we don't have another place other than our Pods, unless we use a military base, and I'm loath to let her see any of that just yet,” Ben replied. “However, I can understand your concern, Councilor. Does anyone have a suggestion for an alternative meeting place?”

“Councilor Carlyle wishes to speak.” Mother intoned.

Ben turned to that monitor, and nodded. “Do you have a suggestion, Councilor?”

“Aye, Prime, I do,” she replied and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Seems to me that bringing her hither, would have been done through yon base anyway. 'Tis it not the only point of egress ye have?”

Ben nodded. “Yes, it is. If we brought her down here, she would have to come through the base to get here.”

“Aye, then she would be a seein' the base anyway, or at least the part of it you would allow her tah see. We are told that yon Rangers are very conscious of honor. Yet trust upon honor can be carried to extremes. I would put forth to ye that we bring her to yon base, but prevent her from observing the true bulk, whilst escorting her to a room where our plea can be presented while minimizing the risk to us as a whole.

“I grant that there is still considerable risk in this venture. Aye, Councilor Wemas has the right of it there. But, there is not much else available to us in the line of options nor is time on our side in this.

“Consider well, what yon great lizard will do when he learns that yon Rangers are departing without his dupes carrying out his orders? The safe retreat of yon Rangers will no doubt be a cause of worry to him. Perhaps he will do something rash that we are not prepared for,” she suggested.

Ben looked thoughtful, “Yes, that has been one of my concerns as well. He has to be getting very nervous by now. Mother, would you please relay a question to Jorga at the pirate base and ask if the Duke has tried to get in touch with Elrond?”

“At once, Prime. However, I feel I should mention that I have been monitoring their computer and communications systems. There have been several attempts by an unknown source to contact Elrond directly. These attempts are consistent with previous communications by the Duke of Cassius, however, until there is a connection, I have no way to isolate the origin.””

“Prime Council, This is Jorga Bedouin. Elrond has been notified that the Duke has tried several times to contact him. For now, he is simply ignoring them. He has asked me to inquire if he should treat them differently,” Jorga's voice issued from the hidden speakers in the room.

Ben looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, if he would, have one of his lieutenants accept the communication and imply that Elrond is not available because he is out attempting to follow the Dukes orders. I imagine the Duke will make threats and generally throw a tantrum, but there really isn't much he can say if he believes that his orders are being followed. That should buy us enough time to get their people to safety at least.”

“That was one of his suggestions, too. I'll be there, so I can record the conversation into Mother's memory. Elrond thinks that since it won't be him - personally - making the connection, we'll be able to trick the Duke into giving his authorization codes, thus verifying his identity. It's a long shot, but it'll sure help as far as evidence goes,”” Jorga replied.

“Excellent. Thank you, Jorga. Be safe,” Ben said, dismissing her.

“And you, Prime, Councilors,” Jorga replied and clicked off.

“Okay, so we're going to invite the Commander here for a chat. We'll take her to the base, but limit her exposure to it. I'll speak to her, and I'll limit the information I give to her until I'm sure she can be trusted with it. Do I proceed?” Ben asked.

“Nay, you do not,” Councilor Carlyle said before the voting could actually begin.

“Excuse me?” Ben asked.

“Brothers and Sisters, please forgive my breach of protocol by speaking out of turn. However, I feel a major alteration to the Prime's suggestion needs to be made. It should not be himself that is exposed to this woman. We should choose a representative to speak to her on our behalf.

“My ken is that yon Prime is of far too much importance to our survival to risk in such a manner. He is our leader, and granted he is but one among many, however, we all know he is not to be placed in danger any more than the rest of us. Aye, less than the rest of us I would wager, for 'tis this man alone that has full and complete knowledge of us and our new society. 'Tis this man alone that our people look to for guidance and stability. Aye, we are their leaders, but he is an icon to our people. One that must be protected.”

“I second this motion. You are too important to our people to risk in this manner, Prime,” Councilor Yoshi agreed.

“If not me, then who would you suggest? None of you are close enough to get here in time, and no one else has full knowledge of what's been going on,” Ben replied.

“The lovely Deirdre would be the ideal one. She has a unique ability to endear herself to her audience, and still manage to get the message across. I grant ye, that she isn't expendable either, but for this, I would say she is the right person for the job,” Councilor Carlyle said.

“If this is your wish, I will of course summon her immediately. However, if you feel that this task is as dangerous as you are implying, I find I am not willing to agree with you,” Ben looked down at his hands. “For the moment, I'm not speaking to you as Prime but as a friend. I love all of my family and would kill to protect them. If I lost any of them, it would devastate me. I do understand your concerns in this, but if I can't be protected in the middle of a military base, then I ask you all, where is safe?”

Chapter Six

“We got two Aces and a Lady, keep your eye on the Lady.”

-  Con-Artist

Great Inland Sea shore

Sector 5634 (Delta Quad)

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Earth, Sol system

For a semi-tropical area, the breeze off the Great Inland Sea was brisk. Deirdre shivered and pulled her jacket around her closer. Of course, it could have been nerves for what she and Gail were about to do. She looked at her companion. Gail seemed to be calm and collected. Deirdre wondered how the woman could do it.

“Aren’t you even a little nervous, Gail?” Deirdre asked. Since it was only the two of them on the beach, it really increased the alien feel of the place even though it looked mostly familiar to them.

Gail smiled. “Of course I am; but I have the option to convert it into worry about you. If something were to happen to you, I don't think I would even bother to return to the base! Besides, I'm wearing armor; you’re not.”

“Is that why you don't feel the chill in the air?” Deirdre asked.

“Probably. This armor is pretty amazing. I wish we would have had it before the fall; a lot of my friends would have made it back,” Gail said sadly.

“Yeah, but isn't it always like that? I mean what having just that shuttle would have meant if we had it in World War II?" she indicated the craft sitting on the beach behind them. "I'm sorry for your loss and for the men and women that have died, but I can't help but feel if they hadn't, then we simply wouldn't be here. Life always seems to find a way to balance the scales in almost every situation.”

“That's very true. Even if we had this armor back then, someone would have sold the designs to someone else, so the enemy would have had it too. I remember watching an old movie before The Fall. In it, a strange 'storm' transported a 'modern' nuclear aircraft carrier back in time to December 6th nineteen-forty-one. Once they finally figured out what was going on, they launched everything they had against the Japanese fleets. Before they could engage and change the past, the storm caught up with the ship and her planes, returning them all to their own time. It was a pretty strange movie," Gail replied.

“It sounds interesting, I'll have to look it up when we get back,” Deirdre said. “Do we have any idea when the folks we're here to meet will be in the area?””

“Should be pretty soon. Mother said they were getting ready for departure when we left, so they should be getting to the Great Falls site anytime.”

“Are we sure that thing will get their attention?” Deirdre asked nodding toward the stubby looking rocket. “That site is kinda far away.””

Gail chuckled and nodded. “Oh yeah, if they have any sensors at all on that ship, this will get they're attention.”

“Without them thinking we're shooting at them?” Deirdre asked, concerned.

“It's totally benign. It's really just a modified signal flare. This one just happens to emit more than light. It'll pop up about a half-mile then stay there while it does its thing. Nothing to worry about,” Gail explained.

“Okay, will it get anyone else's attention?” Deirdre asked.

“Probably, but I highly doubt anyone else will even attempt to respond. Remember, the Duke ordered the Rangers killed. He'll probably think this is a trap for them. If he decides to respond, it'll be slow in coming. By then, we should have a pretty good idea about what's going on,” Gail replied.

“The patrol vessel is entering the target area, General. You may launch the missile at any time,” Mother said over the comm link.

“Thank you, Mother. Okay everyone, heads up; its show time!” Gail said and pressed the launch icon on her control unit.

A hundred yards down the beach the stubby rocket shot straight up so fast it was a blur. However, once it reached the distance Gail had mentioned, it burst into a bright light that rivaled the sun. Deirdre blinked and looked away.

“Vessel has changed course and accelerated; ETA now thirty seconds... mark,” Mother reported.

“Wow that was fast!” Deirdre said.

ER/SAR Command and Control ship Tiderius

Sector 3421 (5 miles south of the Great Falls crater.)

Terral III, Duchy of Cassius (Earth)

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

“Task Commander! There is a flare in the sky near the shore of the Great Inland Sea!”

“Alter course for intercept, stand by to launch armed skimmers, ready the troops,” TC Warmake ordered.

Ranger Commander Jance was impressed with how quickly the crew replied to his orders. She had little doubt that elsewhere in the ship, the six armed skimmers were already manned and ready to launch.

Warmake turned to his companion. “This is an odd move. That flare has to be for us, since we are the only ones out here. Do you suppose the pirates want to talk?”

“Such an action would only get them to the gallows faster and they know it. No, I agree this is for us, but I don't believe it is the pirates. Either way, we are going to find out shortly. May I recommend a full spectrum scan of the entire area as we approach?” Jance offered.

Warmake nodded. “You may. I am leery of this; it feels like an ideal trap and we know the pirates have the weapons to bring us down. Somehow, I doubt My Lord Duke will respond to our distress call with all due haste.”

The big being then turned back to his console to issue orders and make the report back to his control base.

Seeing as the Task Commander was busy, the scanner tech, having finished her scan of the area, reported to the Ranger standing next to him. “Scans complete, Commander. A small, highly camouflaged armed shuttle that is unoccupied and two human females one of which is wearing a sidearm, standing on the beach. They appear to be waiting for us.””

“No other life signs?” Jance asked. “Weapons status on the shuttle?”

The tech shook her head. “Hundreds of life signs in the tree lines, Commander. Nothing unusual considering the area. The shuttle is powered down and the weapons appear secured. There certainly isn't any power to them.”

“Well done, thank you, Officer,” Jance replied.

The tech hesitated a moment. “I don't know if its relative, Commander, but the weapons on that shuttle are archaic and of a design not seen in centuries. However, the camo-screen on it is really good. I doubt we would have found it if we hadn't been meant to. The shuttle itself is of a design we can't identify at all.”

Warmake had been listening and raised his overly bushy eyebrows in question. “Just two humans and an unidentified, ancient shuttle? Now, I'm really nervous about this.”

“Very unusual, indeed. The question for the moment is; are these more pieces to the puzzle, or will this help us fit them together?” Commander Jance replied. “Huh, they're not wearing breathers.”

“We are about to find out; either way, we have arrived,” Warmake said, getting up and heading for the door.

Great Inland Sea shore

Sector 5634 (Delta Quad)

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Earth, Sol system

“Well, it's too late to chicken out now,” Deirdre said, more to herself than to Gail.

Gail chuckled. “It was too late once they got into the area. They would have detected the shuttle leaving.”

Deirdre smiled at her. “Smart ass! I just hope this works.”

They watched the big ship maneuver into a landing on the wide beach; it was a tight fit. A ramp lowered from under the front of the ship and six people walked out. Four of them spread out as if guarding the other two. The two in the center, a woman in armor and what looked like a huge man, wearing different armor, were focused on Deirdre and Gail. Deirdre smiled as she noticed that the woman and two of the guards were wearing respirators. The woman would be the Ranger that Elrond was supposed to take to the Duke.

Addson had coached Deirdre to memorize the word 'translator' so when she held out the device the visitors wouldn't panic. Really, the device was just an open comm to Mother.

Deirdre and Gail advanced down the beach toward the newcomers so as to meet in the middle. Deirdre showed them the small device, and said what it was. After turning it on, she explained. “We have not yet learned the language you call 'standard', so I had to bring this device with us. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Jance bowed her head in acceptance and made introductions. Deirdre introduced herself and Gail.

“How is it you do not know the common tongue?” Warmake asked.

Deirdre smiled at the alien, since it was now obvious he certainly wasn't human. “There is a long story behind that, but suffice it to say, we are not from 'here'.” She said it in a way as to make sure the word here was emphasized.

“My friend and I are here to speak to you and possibly invite the Rangers to come back with us. We have a lot of information that will help you in your investigation. However, we are in a precarious position ourselves. You see, we are not vassals of any lord. We are natives of this planet and we can prove it,” Deirdre said.

Warmake snorted. “Over half the humans on the planet can claim that they are native since they were born here!”

“Every human in the galaxy can claim they are native to this planet and they would be correct, Task Commander. This is our home world. Humans left the planet after a war against the Sal'andori and the Lizards made the surface uninhabitable,” Deirdre explained.

“Pardon me, but there has been no war on this planet in thousands of years,” Jance pointed out.

Deirdre nodded. “That is correct, Commander. The war I speak of took place thousands of years ago. Our records go back to before the fall of Earth. Which is the real name for this planet. As I said before, we can back all of this up, but the information is stored elsewhere.”

“If you are affiliated with those we have come here to catch, you have little to offer us that would have much of a bearing on the case. Any information you could offer would be tainted and at best be considered circumstantial,” Warmake replied.

“Task Commander, we are not associated with the group you call the pirates, although we do know who and what they really are. We are taking a very large risk contacting you like this, but we feel this insanity has to stop. We are offering you a look under the surface, so you can see the true architect behind these atrocities. If you do not wish to avail yourselves of our information, then we will simply part ways and find another way to place our claim to this planet with the Empire,” Deirdre said getting tired of the man's seeming intransigence.

“I could simply detain you as escaped slaves and get the information out of you in another way,” Warmake said. “You are failing to convince me that you are who you say you are.””

“That isn't unexpected. Addson Dee told us you wouldn't believe us until you had proof. She suggested that you run an ident scan on the both of us. You will find that neither one of us is in your or the Imperial database,” Deirdre said.

“Addson Dee is a deceased prospector. That proves nothing," Warmake replied, getting more frustrated with the situation.

Gail grinned. “We rescued her escape pod during a hurricane. She would have died waiting for rescue in that storm. Since then she has been helping us to understand this new world and how to get ourselves ready to become a part of it. She is still very much alive.” She paused. ““We also know that she was a new transfer from Great Falls Aerie and that she was no longer working as a prospector. She had been reassigned to the anti-piracy group and was on her first mission.

“The group you know as the pirates had been told where she would be and ordered to kill her. They retarded the warhead yield and also set the weapon to optical search mode so she would have the best chance of surviving. The 'pirates' were greatly relieved when they found out she had actually survived.”

Jance put her hand on Warmake's arm, to keep him from continuing. “How did you get that information?”

“As I said,” Gail replied. “We recovered her and her escape pod, all of its data is still intact.”

Warmake looked down at Jance. “This could still be a trap, Commander.”

Jance was about to reply, but Deirdre interrupted her. “Excuse me, Commanders, but in the interest of fairness, you should know that the pirates have been ordered to kill the entire Ranger team, except for you Commander. You were to be taken alive if at all possible.”

“You're not making this decision any easier, you know,” Jance said grinning at Deirdre.

“Better to let you know now, then after you agreed. Besides, I can honestly tell you that no harm will come to you or your team at the hands of either the pirates, or my own group.” Deirdre said, trying to reassure both commanders. ““We will also do our best not to put you in a situation, or give you information that will compromise your duty. All we would need is your word of honor before we can take you along, Commander.”

“Will my team be allowed to accompany me?” Jance asked.

“Of course, although I would recommend that you leave two behind to keep track of you. You will also need a friend off planet that you can report to in the case something unforeseen happens. There is a lot here to learn and understand. I would feel better if I knew there was someone that was already in orbit ready to blast out of here if we get caught.””

“Caught by whom?” Warmake asked.

“The Duke of Cassius,” Gail said. “This goes far deeper than just pirates. We can prove it, but we need the chance to do so. Just giving you all of our data simply won't be enough. Not for this.”

Deirdre looked Jance in the eyes. “Although we do not claim the Duke of Cassius as our lord, we would like to claim membership in the Empire, as such, we are requesting the assistance of the HRO in this matter.”

Jance nodded. “You have been coached on exactly what to say.” She turned to Warmake. “Task Commander, please take these two,”” she indicated the two least human members of her team. “Back to our ship so they can depart immediately. Tell your crew that we are in conference and will be departing as soon as we get back to the star port. The four of us will accompany Miss Bedouin and learn what needs to be learned. Keep your head down, and I'll try to keep you in the loop on this. In the meantime, I'd continue your investigation just as you would as if this never happened.”

Warmake nodded. “I'll report that your investigation was inconclusive and make sure to allow for your return if needed. I doubt anyone will look at this too closely.”

Jance nodded agreement and called her troops in to issue orders. Very shortly, the big ship left with Gail and Deirdre standing on the beach with Jance and three of her troopers.

“So, what next?” Jance asked.

Gail grinned. “We need to call in our guards so we can load up and head out. I just didn't want to freak you, or the Task Commander out.”

“What guards? We did a full scan, there are only the two of you,” Jance said.

Gail's grin got deeper. “Okay everyone, mount up! We're heading out!”

From the edge of the forest, up and down the shoreline, a dozen heavily camouflaged troops stepped out and began trotting toward the shuttle in a relaxed manner.

“Where the...” Jance said as she watched them appear. “Never mind, I'm not sure I want to know.”

“Chameleon tech developed during the wars. We had to be able to hide from the lizards as well as infected humans and other things. This was the answer. I'm just really surprised this stuff still works after so many years,” Gail replied.

“Somehow, I don't think this is going to be the last surprise you have for us during our stay with you,” Jance said.

Gail nodded. “When we get to where we're going. I'd like to ask you to check your heavy weapons. You can keep your side arms, but no one else except guards will be carrying weapons and those don't ever leave the base.”

“How is it that you can breathe this atmosphere?” Jance asked.

“You can too actually, but there is an adjustment period. This is our natural atmosphere, not what you’re used to breathing. If any records from the ships that departed had remained, you would have known that humans nominally breathe a higher concentration of oxygen... uh, ohto is what you call it.

“Our medical people are concerned that humans might have already begun genetically adapting to what you're breathing right now. If that's happened, then this atmosphere might be lethal to them. We'll make sure your quarters have the correct atmosphere so you won't have to go through adjustment unless you want to.” Deirdre explained. “The one concern I have is that our medical people have no experience with nonhuman races. However, we do have access to the medical AI on Addson Dee's skipper, so there is probably some information there.”

They were boarding the shuttle so the conversation lapsed while everyone stowed weapons and found a seat. Gail climbed into the flight area and began her preflight checklists while everyone else settled.

“I think you are far more than a simple messenger, Deirdre Bedouin,” Jance said.

“Well, I am, but I can't tell you what, or even what that means, yet,” Deirdre replied. “I hope you can understand that.””

Jance nodded. “I can accept that for now. You mentioned claiming this planet as the human home world. Can you tell me about that yet?”

“Well, what do you know of the history of this world, or of our race?” Deirdre asked.

“Other than it belonging to the Duke of Cassius and it being one of the more important ohto producing worlds in the empire, I don't know much about it. As for our history, no one really knows for certain. There are too many differing accounts for any of them to be creditable,” Jance replied.

“I can tell you the story, but I don't have any of the proof with me. As a race, we originated here, on this world. A few thousand years ago, we were attacked by a race we called the Sal'andori. At the time, we were poorly equipped to counter an attack from space, since we had yet to develop our own form of space travel.

“We still did all we could to oppose them. Through captured ships and certain breakthroughs in our own technology, we finally did manage to push them back off our world; or so we thought.

“Unknown to us, another race had arrived and attacked the Sal'andori while we were fighting them on planet. This other race was the real reason we defeated the invaders. We had learned a lot about fighting from the Sal'andori and even more from watching the new race wipe out the remaining invaders.

“It's a good thing that we did too, because once they had finished with the invasion ships in orbit, the second race came down to the planet. At first, we thought that we might be able to make friends and possibly begin searching for a new home. The war had devastated this planet, and it was rapidly becoming unlivable.

“We had already begun the evacuation during the fighting with the Sal'andori, since we knew the planet was lost. However, once those ships left, we never heard from them again. It has been surmised that those ships were intercepted by the second race, which is how they discovered the Sal'andori were here. Apparently, they also discovered that we were edible.

“The second race was the Lizarrus; Duke Tammerain's people. Once this was discovered, the exit vectors for the refugee ships was altered and several of them made it past the Lizarrus and into Hyclarion space. There, they were promptly arrested as spies and incarcerated. You see, at that time, the Lizarrus and the Hyclarion were at war,”” Deirdre said.

Jance and a couple of the others nodded. Jance was the one to speak, however. “We remember the war. But I'm unfamiliar with the human role in it.”

One of the other Rangers answered his commander. “Commander, there was no 'role'. Just as Deirdre Bedouin has said, they were arrested and promptly sequestered. Due process had been suspended for the duration of the crisis, other than the arrival of more humans and their immediate arrest, the whole event was immediately forgotten by the Consortium leadership. The war continued for approximately ten more years, by the universal scale. When hostilities finally ceased, these forgotten humans got their chance to speak.

“The surviving members of the original crews presented their case to the appointed magistrate, however, the ships they arrived in had been recycled for use in other warships. The data that confirmed the story told by the humans had been destroyed.

“During these proceedings, the newly appointed Lizarrus ambassadorial mission was claiming the humans as a vassal race since they had first been discovered as originating in their space. The Lizarrus, however, claimed to have no idea where they had actually originated from. They implied it had been an unexplored fringe world on the far side of their former Empire.

“So it was determined that the humans, as a race, be returned to the Lizarrus as vassals, with the addendum that they not be used as a food source. However, since the Lizarrus would incur the cost of relocation and consolidation of the race, they would be allowed to indenture the adults, for a term of no longer than ten standard years.

“The human claim to a planet had been completely ignored because the Lizarrus had already claimed this world as part of a commercial house. Since the world was in ecological ruin at the time, very little weight was given to the human claim, and it was dismissed,” the Ranger finished.

“Did anyone wonder why the world was in the condition it was in, since none of the fighting had actually taken place here?” Deirdre asked.

“No, Miss Bedouin. The Lizarrus are not known for treating worlds very gently. The destruction evident on this planet at the time would have fit in very well with how the merchant worlds were used. I do know that the survey taken of this planet at the time was very brief and not very extensive. The evidence of fighting could have been easily overlooked,”” the Ranger replied.

Deirdre nodded. “Now, here is where the story takes a turn. Before the war, there was a very wealthy man that believed we needed to be prepared for an extinction level event. That is to say, an event that would end all life on the surface of the planet. He used his vast wealth to create thousands of large, deeply buried, underground habitats capable of sustaining life indefinitely.

“Most of those life pods, for a lack of a better term, had been completed before the original attack by the Sal'andori. One of the features of these pods were very experimental hibernation chambers. If the war were to go very badly for the human race, the inhabitants of the pods would go into these chambers and sleep away the centuries until it was deemed safe for them to reawaken.

“The original plan had been for a twelve hundred year sleep. However, due to a computer malfunction, the chambers did not reawaken the occupants until a little under a month ago. Since that time, they have been gathering information on their new world and the world they left behind.

“They are still not ready to announce themselves to the rest of the galaxy, but certain circumstances have occurred that have forced their hand. So, after gathering all the information they could, they decided to make contact with a visiting representative of the Empire they now found themselves a part of,” Deirdre finished.

“Thousands of these pods? You are taking a very large risk then,” Jance commented.

“Duke Tammerain is corrupt, evil and plotting against the Empire. We cannot sit quietly hidden while he carries out his plan to attack and overthrow the Hyclarion Consortium. We know if that were to happen, we would very quickly become an endangered species. We wish to appeal to the Consortium in order to claim this planet and hopefully gain at least a small say in how we are to live,”” Deirdre finished.

“Are those accusations your personal opinions, or do you have proof? I should warn you, that should such an accusation become public knowledge and you cannot prove it, you can be executed for it,” Jance replied.

Deirdre nodded. “You will notice we have not been broadcasting it on the vid links. However, we do believe that if what we know is not proof enough by itself, it will certainly raise questions that cannot be ignored.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are arriving at the base. Please prepare to disembark,” Gail said over the intercom.

Chapter Seven

Terran Marine Base Alpha

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

As Gail opened the passenger hatch, she went through first, turned and stood beside the hatch.  Deirdre let her guests precede her out of the shuttle through the front passenger hatch. At the rear of the craft, the guard team had opened the troop ramp and disembarked that way.

It wasn't lost on Jance that Gail offered Deirdre her hand as if she were some kind of V.I.P. For all Jance knew, she could have been the leader of these people. As she looked around, she began to wonder just how many people and how much power they actually had.

The bay they had landed in was pretty large, and there were several other craft of various sizes and designs parked neatly along the bulkheads. But the very large bay doors on those bulk heads were clearly visible. Obviously there was much more to this base than was currently visible, but Deirdre and her people wanted to keep that hidden for now.

Considering the risk they were taking by simply inviting the Ranger team here, Jance could understand Deirdre's reluctance. But she had to know that Jance was duty-bound to report on everything she witnessed. But, so far, she hadn't seen anything that could be used to threaten the Empire, or even the Duchy of Cassius. She snorted mentally – if these people were anything like Deirdre, the Duke was probably in considerable danger no matter what strength lay hidden behind those large doors.

“Miss Bedouin, you asked that we check our weapons, where can we do that?” Jance asked.

Deirdre raised her hand to show Jance and the Rangers which way to go. “Just outside the pilot's briefing room. We took the liberty of setting aside a few lockers for your use. Once you place your gear inside, close the lid and remove the key, they will remain secured until that same key is inserted by the being that pulled it out. No one else will be able to open it –– including us, so please don't lose your key,” Deirdre explained as they walked. “The boxes themselves will remain there, under guard until you return to empty them.”

“Thank you, that will certainly go a long way to helping us relax about leaving our weapons behind,” Jance replied.

“No weapons capable of killing are generally allowed outside of this facility. However, we do have a constabulary that carries stun batons. That being said, to date, none of them has ever been used. In fact, the only emergencies our police have needed to respond to are lost children and to help get one person to the medical section; the woman in question was having a baby,”” Deirdre explained.

“You have no crime?” Jance asked. Somehow that thought seemed to bother her more than anything else she had so far witnessed.

“Not yet,” Deirdre replied. “We haven't been awake for very long and those chosen to go into cryo were pretty stable to begin with. I'm sure once the newness of our situation wears off, we'll have our share of incidents. There are a few other factors contributing to it, but again, I can't really get into those yet. Here we are.” Deirdre indicated the large lockers lined up between two of Gail's armed Marines.

“Where are we going once we're done here?” Jance asked.

Deirdre smiled at her. “Just inside here. There are a few folks you're going to want to meet and a lot of information for you to listen to. Most of your questions about us, should be answered then.”

As she finished speaking, Deirdre looked toward the door and grinned. “Speaking of people to meet, here comes one of them now.”

Jance looked up to see a young, human male walk through the door. The fact that all the nearby troops came to immediate attention when he walked out was not lost on her. He was obviously someone very important. The young man was smiling and bowed slightly to Jance as Deirdre introduced him.

“Commander, may I introduce my brother, Benjamin Bedouin. Ben, this is Ranger Commander Jance Halst and her team.”

“It's a great pleasure to meet you, Rangers,” Ben said in accented Imperial Standard. “I only wish it could have been under less official circumstances.””

Jance bowed at the waist in a show of respect. “It is our duty to serve, Sir.”

Ben tilted his head to her. “Okay, so what gave it away?”

Jance nodded to the guards. “They did. They reacted when we walked up, but I already knew that Deirdre was someone important. However, it was nothing compared to the reaction you got. You are the leader here, even if you look barely into manhood.”

Ben nodded. “I won’t deny it, but I was hoping you wouldn’t figure it out quite this quickly. I am sure my advisers will be rather displeased that you had. Because of security issues, they were against my being the one to address you.

“Considering the important and sensitive nature of this situation, I felt I had to be the one to meet with you. If for no other reason than for you to understand how strongly we feel about this. A lot of people’s lives are on the line here; more than you are currently aware of.””

“I am beginning to get that idea, considering everything that’s happened so far. I cannot make guarantees without knowing the whole story, but I will say that my team and I will treat you fairly,” Jance replied.

“At this point, I believe that is the best we can hope for. However, before we enter this room, there is one more person I would like you to meet, if that would be all right?” Ben asked.

“Certainly, Sir,” Jance replied.

Ben opened the door and said something to someone inside. When he turned back, a person followed him out that she had only seen in incident reports. The young woman placed her left hand over her heart and bowed her head to the Ranger.

“Greetings, Ranger Commander. I am Addson Dee, formerly of Anti-Piracy Command, Argassi Aerie.”

Jance returned the greeting. “Addson Dee, I need to verify your identity. You are listed as deceased in the Imperial Network.”

“I would be happy to, Commander, however, by doing so, must I give my current location?” Addson asked.

“I see your point. I will place the scanner into local only mode. It can still verify your identity, but it won’t transmit any data,” Jance explained. ““With your permission, Sir, I would like to do the same with you and your wife. Before you ask, no, I don’t expect it to know who you are, because I believe you, though, my superiors will need more than my belief.”

“I understand Commander. I can only allow this as long as such information will not lead to our discovery. We have stayed alive and free for this long. I would like to remain so until we can speak to the Empire,” Ben replied.

“Your sister explained this to us on our way in. I can make sure this data will not leave the Ranger data network. Neither will my team reveal your location, without your leave, or unless ordered to by Imperial decree,” Jance said looking back at her team members.

Deirdre looked back at the other members of Jance’s team. “Rangers, all of our accommodations here are currently set-up for human occupation. However, if you need anything special in order to make yourselves comfortable here, please just ask.””

As one, the other Rangers bowed to Deirdre in thanks for her hospitality. “Milady, you have already shown us more hospitality than we’ve seen since arriving at this planet. We thank you for your concern.”

While Deirdre had been speaking, Addson Dee held her hand on the scanner that Jance produced from her pack. When it beeped softly, Addson removed her hand and Jance looked at the screen. “You are indeed Addson Dee. I am relieved to find you healthy, Citizen. Welcome back from the dead.”

“Thank you, Commander. If it weren’t for these remarkable people, I would have died out there. They saved my life,” Addson replied.

“So noted, Citizen,” Jance said smiling at the young woman.

Ben held his hand out for the scanner. It didn’t take nearly as long because the scanner started tweeting a soft alarm. The person just scanned did not exist in the Imperial Database. Jance touched a couple of Icons, and had Ben place his hand back on the scanner. “Please state your name and rank, if any, for VoCode verification.”

Ben replaced his hand. “My name is Benjamin Anthony Bedouin, I am the current Prime Council for the free citizens of the planet Earth.”

When the device beeped again, Jance nodded to him, and turned to Deirdre, who copied her husband. “My name is Deirdre Ann Bedouin, I am the current Minister of Logistics for the free citizens of the planet Earth.”

Jance nodded to the two. “Thank you, I will keep the information you have entrusted to me to the best of my abilities.”

Ben smiled at the woman again. “Commander, we haven’t even started giving you classified information yet. Please follow me, let’s get this part over with.”

Ben led the small group into the room that everyone seemed to come out of. It was set up like a small theater, which made sense to Jance, since they'd told her it was a pilot's briefing room. The seats were set in curved rows with each of the rows slightly elevated over the one in front of it. There was a narrow isle down the middle, dividing the seats into two sections. The room could easily hold a hundred pilots. Seated in the far section was a group of men that had also been waiting for the meeting. Jance briefly wondered who they were.

Deirdre indicated where Jance and her team could sit – the front row of the non-occupied side, before she and Addson Dee took seats behind them. Ben took the place of the briefing officer behind the podium that was just beside the door. In the front center of the room was a huge holographic projector. Currently, it was displaying an image of an unfamiliar planet.

“Okay, now that we're all here. Let's get this show on the road. Rangers, the planet before you is the same one you are currently on as it appeared eight thousand years ago. At that time, it held a population of between eleven and fourteen billion humans,” Ben started at the beginning and told them everything. Stopping occasionally to answer brief questions, it took the better part of two hours to relate the entire story, including the discovery of the pirates and the information that they'd uncovered concerning that group.

“Can any of this information concerning the pirates be independently verified?” Jance asked.

“I can certainly point you to where the messages are located in the pirate's computers, Ranger Commander,” Mother said. “However, the only trace I can find in the Duke's computer is a log stating he sent the messages, but not what they contained.”

“Please understand, it isn't that we do not believe you...“ Jance tried to explain, but Ben held up his hand.

“Don't worry about it, Commander. We understand that you need to verify the information yourselves. It is the hope of the people formerly called the pirates that, in light of the new information the Imperial Court will see fit to at least spare the families and perhaps reduce the sentence for a few of their members,” Ben said.

“I cannot speak for the Courts of course, but if there is evidence that they were coerced into these actions as you have said, then there is a better than average chance the Courts would dismiss the charges against them. That being said; it will be difficult to prove coercion if their families are with them,” Jance replied.

“Commander, their families weren't released to them until it was too late for them to stop. Several acts of piracy had already been committed by the time that happened. The records for those acts are present and available in the memory systems of the ships. The Duke had constructed plenty of evidence against them by the time he released their families. They had little choice but to continue doing his bidding, since they couldn't prove he was the one sending them their orders,” Ben replied. “They are also very concerned about their families. Since they were with them at their base, but didn't have anything to do with the actual attacks.””

“By Imperial law, they are guilty by association, as are you, now. However, I can see that there are extenuating circumstances. Since you have come forward with your information, I can dismiss the charges against you and your people based on the fact that you delayed coming forward until you had what you believed are all the facts,” Jance said and the rest of her squad nodded agreement. “As citizens of the Empire the families are duty bound to report all criminal activity. However, considering the seriousness of this case and the involvement of the Duke, I could drop the charges against them as well if we can get definitive proof that the Duke is behind this.”

“Prime Counselor, forgive me for asking, but you have not yet mentioned a motive for the Duke to act in this manner. I grant there is no love lost for this being because of his attitude; however, he is a very important member of the Empire and many would find it hard to believe he has done this just because he could,” one of Jance's team asked.

Ben nodded. “I was actually waiting for you to ask me that. We are still trying to gather data, but everything we have so far tells us that the Duke is planning on staging an attack on Hyperion in an effort to overthrow the Empire.”

Ben had been expecting a reaction from the Rangers and he hadn't been disappointed. They were all shocked and very upset.

“What evidence do you have that leads you to this conclusion, Prime Council? Please be as detailed as possible so we can follow your logic,” Jance asked, suddenly very serious.

Ben bowed slightly to her and told her everything they knew, as well as what was suspected, as of this moment. When it was over, Jance looked thoughtful and her team looked troubled.

“Prime Council, is there any evidence of the Duke billeting troops here? Such an attack would require a considerable number of troops on the planet, not to mention a great number of warships. We have seen no evidence of either,” the other human Ranger asked.

“Rangers, we have no off-planet resources in which to verify anything, although, I did find references to several off-planet sites scattered around this system in the Duke's computer system. Nothing was mentioned about what was there, but he uses those points as a form of contact with those sites. I've been waiting for him to make contact again so I can trap the message; however, it hasn't happened as yet,” Mother replied.

One of the men in the group on the other side of the isle from the rangers stood. “Uh, begging your pardon, Prime Council, but I think I might know somethin' 'bout that. Uh, not the off-planet stuff, but 'bout the troops here, on this planet.”

Ben nodded to him. “Any information you have would be appreciated, Sir.”

The man nodded and hesitantly began. “After we'd raid a floater or train, we'd have to deliver the cargo we took to a depot out in the ocean. For the last few months, when we'd make a delivery, we noticed that there were a lot of house soldiers there and more seemed to be showing up all the time. Willid told me, uh, Willid runs our scanners for the deliveries, he said that the rock formations on the bottom had changed from the first few trips. He showed me that when we'd started that run, there was a few rock ridges just to the south of the depot, but the rest of the area was sandy. But the last scans he'd taken showed almost no sand at all. There was rock ridges almost covering the bottom for as far as our equipment could reach,” the man said.

Ben looked at Jance. “In case you haven't figured it out by now, the men here are the group you call the pirates,” he indicated the group of men. “They have agreed to surrender to you. These are the men and women that took an active part in the illegal activities. We have taken their families into our population under asylum.” He looked back at the still standing man. “Do you have the coordinates of that depot, sir?””

Another man stood up. “I'm Willid, Sir. The depot is listed as an emergency sea shack in sector one-ninety-nine-thirty-four, delta. It's the only one in that sector, Sir. It has an active beacon, so it shouldn't be hard to find. Just to say, that place is no emergency shelter, Sir. It far too big for that."

Ben nodded to the man. “Mother? Can you get us a picture?”

“I can, but the only one I can get is from the planetary survey office and the image has been tampered with,” Mother replied but put the image up in the hologram.

“Can you show us what's been altered?” Ben asked.

“These images are multi-spectral in composition. While what you see here, is actually the original image, the differences occur in the thermal and topographical settings. Defining the area of tampering is not possible; however, the proof is evident when we compare these two modes.

“In the topographical scan, depicting the actual bottom of the ocean in that area, we can see the rock shelves Mr. Amerath described. As you can see, it covers a very large area surrounding the emergency shelter.

“Now, on the thermal-graphic setting, all we can see is the shelter itself. However, since we know rock tends to hold heat energy better than sand, we can see a discrepancy here.” She put an overlay on the thermal image of where the rock shelf from the topographical scan should have been.

“As sensitive as this scan claims to be, we should see the temperature differences, even thru the water. The recorded depth in this area is less than a hundred feet.” She switched back to the original image.

“Depending on the type of rock, we should also be able to see it with this resolution. I would mention as one last comment – this area was very sandy and flat with no rock outcroppings within five hundred miles according to our original geological study of this area. However, the possibility exists that the rock came to the surface either due to wave activity, or through another cataclysmic event,” Mother finished.

Jance took out her communicator. “Jance to Dalphine, do you read?”

“Good to hear your voice, Commander. Orders?” a voice replied.

Jance smiled. “We have some new friends – the good kind. I need a full spectrum scan of sector one-ninety-nine-thirty-four, better include the adjacent sectors for comparison. Has anyone questioned why you're still in orbit?”

“We'll have it for you in about five minutes, Commander. Yeah, planetary ATC asked us why we were still here. I told them we were ordered to hold position and stand by for new orders. I alerted Command so they'll cover for us if anyone double checks that,” the voice replied.

“Commander, we already know what it is, but since you need independent verification, you should ask for a current fleet status. I'll bet you dinner that most of the Imperial Guardians are away putting out small fires,” Ben said.

Jance passed along the request. “You think the Duke has a fleet hidden somewhere that we don't know anything about?”

Gail stepped up to Ben and he leaned over so she could whisper to him.

“Sir, there are several surface contacts converging over the old pirate base. They appear to be those ships Addson called floaters.”

“Do we have any idea why they're doing that?” Ben asked.

“If it weren't for the fact that those boats are supposed to be nothing but robotic cargo haulers, I'd say the Duke is about to destroy the pirate base,” Gail said.

“Why use floaters? They're slow as hell and they don't have any weaponry,” Ben asked. Then turned. “Mother, is there any unusual computer or satellite activity centered on the old pirate base?”

There was a short pause as Mother searched. “Affirmative, Prime. Two satellites are focused on the area, and a real time feed is being fed to the Duke's private terminal. Further, the floaters are under direct command from a control system located in the local Ducal Residence. The signals are heavily encrypted. It will take me at least two hours to crack it.””

“Can you tap into the satellite feed?” Ben asked.

Jance was watching what was going on. “Is something happening, Prime?” she asked.

“I'm not sure, but it's starting to look like it. There are several floaters converging on the area where the pirate base used to be. They are under direct control by someone in the ducal residence and he's watching this on his terminal. What I don't understand is if he kills off his pirates, how is going to get the rest of the Ranger force to come here? For that matter, who is he going to blame your deaths on and how is he going to make that happen?” Ben asked. “I really don't like not knowing those answers.”

Jance raised her comm again. “Hojoh, you still there?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“Raise shields and cloak the ship. Then find someplace to hide, there's a good chance you're in danger,” Jance said.

“Sir, there's nothing up here. Just the standard civilian traffic – the scanners are clear too,” Hojoh replied.

“Hojoh, remember what I said last time you questioned my orders?” Jance countered.

“Raising shields, engaging cloak and looking for a place to hide. Could we return to the planet after we get those scans for you? It's actually the closest and probably the safest place to hide. Otherwise, we could lose contact with you.”

“That's fine, but make damn sure you’re not tracked coming down, and find a spot that's well hidden,” Jance ordered.

“Will do, Commander.”

“Let me know when you're down and hidden,” Jance replied. “Jance out.”

“Prime, I would say you're seeing the Duke's next message to the pirates,” one of the Rangers said.

Ben smiled at the Ranger. “I think you're probably right. That's going to make it difficult to get evidence for you.”

“Not true, Prime. This act alone tells us a good portion of the story,” Jance added. “How would the Duke even know the location of the pirates if he had not been involved with them before this? The floaters are being controlled from his household, and he is currently watching the same feed we are. All of this tells me that he is the shadow in the background.”

“What you couldn't have known, Prime, is that before I came here, I had already had my suspicions about these events. If the Duke had commanded the pirates to continue striking smaller targets, with little to no loss of life, then he would have stayed hidden. But when he commanded them to destroy the Aerie; that broke the pattern. That attack made no sense at all.””

Jance smiled at the 'pirates'. “The fact that you did try to make sure no one got hurt was apparent to us. Up until the attack on Miss Dee's skipper, we had even managed to discount all previous deaths to misfortune due to other conditions. The fact that you did set the missiles to hunt in optical mode thus giving Addson a chance to evade them made us wonder if you were trying to save her, or if you just didn't know how to use the weapon.

“Now, we know. I would like to hear your story of what happened at Great Falls Aerie,” Jance finished.

Ben watched as Elrond slowly stood. “Commander, I am Captain Elrond Coir of the Privateer Bittertree, I'm the leader of the pirates. The Great Falls Aerie was a disaster in every sense of the word.” He told as much of the story as he knew, since the team that went to the Aerie died with it. “The plan had been to scare everyone out of there, then destroy the Aerie. But something went wrong once our people got the engineering area opened.”

“Could they have caused the accident while in the Engineering area of the Aerie?” one of the Rangers asked.

Elrond shook his head. “Hayden held a master's rating for power systems and had worked on Aeries in the past. That's why he was on the mission.”

Jance nodded to Elrond and was opening her mouth to speak when her communicator chirped. “Commander! Priority Alert!”

“What's going on Hojoh?” Jance asked.

“There's a narding destroyer up here, hunting us!” Hojoh replied. “It wasn't here five minutes ago!”

“Calm down, Hojoh. They can't find you if you're cloaked. Have you sent a message to command yet?” Jance asked.

“Hypercom is jammed. We jacked into the planetary comm system to call you. We have those scans you asked for and will be landing as soon as we can slip into the atmosphere without that farking flying gunship seeing us!”

“Hold on, if you land, you might not be able to take off again. Send those scans, I'll send up a report and then the two of you are to jump out of here. Once you return to base, be sure you give my report directly to Commissioner Holdst. We will remain here and collect more evidence to support my suppositions. Holdst will think I'm out of my mind, but reassure him I am not and this situation is very real. Do you understand?” Jance ordered.

“Yes Commander. We will do exactly that,” Hojoh replied, still sounding nervous.

Chapter Eight

“The difference between stupidity and Genius is that Genius has its limits.”

- Albert Einstein

Terran Marine Base Alpha

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

"Prime, please excuse me a moment while I prepare that report," Jance said as she stood.

"Of course, Commander. If you need any relevant information from Mother, simply ask her for it, if you have need of anything else..." Ben replied.

"I'll ask." Jance nodded. "I think you given us plenty to think about, Prime. Is there a private room I may have temporary use of?"

"There is an unoccupied office just a couple of doors down, Commander. I'll show you where," Gail said and led the woman out the door.

"If I may ask, Prime Council, do you have any underwater assets near the former base that is to be destroyed?" one of the Rangers asked.

Ben shook his head. "Not currently, we saw no need for it. Mother, do we have anything we can send out there?"

"There are several probes that could be launched without detection. What form of scan do you wish to run, Ranger T’Gree?" Mother asked politely.

"Do you have anything capable of a full spectrum scan?" T’Gree asked.

"Not currently, Ranger, I'm sorry. We simply have not yet had time to build it yet. However, I do have something that can give you a computer enhanced visual image," Mother offered.

"On what datum are the enhancements preformed and how are they attained?" he asked.

"An optical form of radar called LIDAR. Very low power lasers are used to scan the area in question providing a topographical reference grid. At the same time as the lasers are scanning, an ultra-low frequency sonic pulse is used to determine composition of scanned objects. By combining these two methods, I can create a realistic representation of the area in question," Mother replied. "This is most especially helpful in low light situations such as this one where real time video is not feasible."

"That would be very helpful, Mother. If you would, please send a probe to the location in question. If you would also record all the information you receive back from the probe for us, that would be helpful as well," the Ranger asked.

"Prime Council?" Mother asked.

"Do it," Ben replied. "Please record location and depth as well for later review."

"That information is transmitted as part of the feed Prime," Mother replied. "Probe is prepared; launching. ETA to base is twenty minutes."

"Wow, that's a lot faster than our shuttles could get there," Ben said.

"The probe is really a standard torpedo fitted with a sensor payload. It uses magnetic fluid propulsion. The designer described it a jet engine for the water," mother replied. "It is very efficient and impossible to track with most normal methods as it contains very little metal."

"Prime Council, you have given us much to think about as well as a large amount of information. With respect, the information you do have has been attained by your Artificial Intelligence unit. In order for the Consortium to accept the veracity of this information, the AI in question will have to be independently verified and certified by a Consortium registered professional of Master level or higher. I mention this so you will understand the preparations that will need to be made in order for you to use data it contains as viable evidence not only when you make your claim to this planet, but also for the purposes of our current investigation. Are you willing to allow this?" the Human Ranger asked.

"You are Ranger Hyroan, correct?" Ben asked kindly. When the Ranger smiled and nodded, Ben continued. "I will freely admit that I'm not comfortable with it as our survival down here is fully dependent on our computer systems. However, if it is needed, then there is little choice. I would have to insist on a professional that would be willing to forget any other information he or she may encounter during this certification process."

Ben had actually anticipated something like this coming up and had discussed it with Mother, in private. He had been concerned that evidence of AIDEN would be found during an investigation of this nature.

Mother assured him that no matter how good the programmer or technician, no evidence of AIDEN would be discovered and he should actually try to encourage such an investigation as it would only serve to help them.

The man nodded. "Very understandable, Prime Council. Considering the nature of most data entrusted to AI units such as yours, that type of discretion is required before the technician can ever receive their certifications. Considering the seriousness of the crimes we are investigating, I am certain Ranger Command will insist on such a certification. I will speak with Commander Halst to be certain, but I may be able to offer my services as that technician in light of the current situation."

Ben raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You are a Master Computer Technician as well as a Ranger?"

Tyroan smiled. "Yes, Prime, it is a requirement of the Rangers to have Master ratings in certain other disciplines in addition to our duties and training as a Ranger. The Commander has Master Ratings in Political Science and Military Command. I maintain a Master Rating in Computers Sciences with a focus on Artificial Intelligence. Ranger T'Gree has a Master Rating in Detections Systems and Natural Physics.

"Excuse me, Prime Council, but may I ask what the range on your probes are?" The last Ranger asked. Ben thought her name had been Sc'ellese; until this point she hadn't spoken.

"Roughly two sectors as you measure ground distance, Ranger Sc'ellese," Mother replied. "Might I inquire as to why you asked?"

"If we could get a sensor scan of the sea floor near that Emergency Shelter citizen Amrath mentioned, we could gain more evidence of the Duke's activities. However, it is too far out of range," the Ranger replied.

"The scans performed by the Dalphine should be more than sufficient. I do agree that the added data would be beneficial but the ships located there should easily detect the scans," T’Gree spoke to his fellow Ranger.

"It is possible to send a probe to that area, Ranger Sc'ellese. However, I am afraid I have to agree with Ranger T’Gree; doing so would alert the personnel stationed there. The camouflaged ships would detect the lasers passing over their hulls. At this point, I would recommend we simply wait for a better opportunity to present itself," Mother said.

"It was a notion I had, nothing more. Thank you Mother, Ranger T'Gree," Sc'ellese replied.

Ben nodded to her and smiled. "There's nothing wrong with making suggestions. Thank you for yours, Ranger Sc'ellese." She bowed her head to him in reply.

"How long until the floaters are in position to attack the abandoned base, Mother?" Ben asked, turning back to the satellite image on the monitor.

"In about two minutes Prime. Our probe is still five minutes away," Mother replied.

The door once again opened to admit the returning Jance. "Prime Council, may I have your permission to address the accused?"

"Of course, Commander," Ben replied and stepped aside.

As she stepped up to the podium, she asked him another question. "Given the seriousness of this situation and the very grave risk you are taking by inviting us here, may I assume that at the least your Council is also listening to these discussions?"

Ben chuckled. "I would say that is a safe assumption, Commander. As a group, we are very concerned about this situation."

She nodded. "As well you should be; these are very serious circumstances that if not handled correctly could result in the deaths or imprisonment of your entire group. I wish to assure you once again that, for our part, we will do what we can to assist as well as advise you. On that, you have my word of honor as a Ranger and Guardian of the Empire.

"That being said, what I have to say may sound ominous on the surface; in truth it is very serious and will have very far reaching affects. Do not panic; certain protocols have to be followed. Listen carefully to what I have to say," she finished.

"I understand, Commander. You must follow your duty, but things are not always what they seem," Ben replied.

She nodded. "Very much so. Thank you for understanding." She turned to face the assembled group.

She looked at the Elrond's group. "Citizens, please stand." She waited until the men and women had gotten to their feet. "I am Ranger Commander Jance Halst of the Hyclarion Ranger Outpost zero-five-zero. It is my duty and responsibility to the Empire, on behalf of His Imperial Majesty, Hjoolous the ninety-third, to inform all of you that by Imperial Law, you are now all formally under arrest for multiple violations of the articles of Law as defined by the Empire.

"Due to extenuating circumstances, as well as their continued assistance in our investigations, the group calling themselves the Free Citizens of the Planet Earth lead by Prime Council Benjamin Arthur Bedouin, all charges are forthwith dismissed. Upon further investigation, we have determined that any involvement by them with the group known as 'the pirates' currently under investigation on the Planet Terral III was not beyond a reasonable amount of time with consideration given to their current social situation.

"Further, we have determined, pending approval from Ranger Command, that the families and loved ones of the aforementioned pirates were not willing participants in the crimes committed by that group. Failure to report said action is also suspended pending further investigation into the possible involvement of Duke Tammerain of the Duchy of Cassius."

The men standing smiled and quietly congratulated each other. Ben stepped forward and shook the man's hand. Elrond had tears in his eyes.

"It is further noted that, having freely admitted to committing the crimes of which they have been accused, the aforementioned group known as the pirates have willingly and voluntarily surrendered themselves into our custody. With their surrender, they also have presented sufficient evidence as to warrant an investigation into the involvement of the aforementioned Duke Tammerain in these crimes. Given the seriousness of these crimes, as well as the officially registered accusations of involvement by a member of the Imperial Court, the charges against the group of the aforementioned pirates cannot be dismissed at this time. At this time, all members of this group are officially under arrest for the following crimes filed against them by myself, in Imperial Court," Jance then stated each violation and crime since this was an official declaration.

"Because of the current situation on this planet and given the afore mentioned circumstances and involvement of Duke Tammerain of Cassius, the accused are to temporarily be remanded into the custody of the Free Citizens of the Planet Earth, with the understanding the accused will be sequestered until such time as they may be transported to an appropriate Ranger controlled holding facility, there to await tribunal for the afore listed crimes.

"Prime Council Bedouin, of the Free Citizens of the Planet Earth, will you assist the Rangers by detaining the prisoners until such time as we may provide transport to another location?"

Ben nodded. "I am Benjamin Bedouin, in my capacity as Prime Council and on behalf of the Council of Elders, we will comply with your request, Commander."

Jance nodded to him. "We thank you for your assistance in this matter, Citizen." She paused momentarily. "At this time and in addition to our current investigation, we are opening an investigation into the possibility of High Treason against the

Realm on the part of the Duke Tammerain of Cassius. We have been presented with sufficient evidence to fulfill the requirements regarding investigation of members of the Royal Court.

"Further, we have been formally requested by Prime Council Benjamin Bedouin for assistance in the matter of their declaration of Home World status for the human race upon the planet of Terral III, currently held by the Duchy of Cassius. In order to prevent impropriety, or an unintentional conflict of interest, I am given the responsibility of handling this request to Ranger Officer T’Gree as he is neither human nor biased as to the current situation of the human race.

"This ends this formal entry. It will be recorded into the logs of the Ranger Cruiser Dalphine upon our return to that craft," Jance finished.

Ranger T’Gree stood and bowed to his Commander, then turned to Ben. "Prime Council, at this time, I will be assuming the official collection of your proof of claim to this planet. I feel I should mention to you, that you have the right to request assistance from Commander Halst as she has now officially removed herself from this investigation. "I would also ask that Ranger Hyroan also remove himself from this investigation as well. It is not necessary, however, it will make for a stronger case if there are no humans involved in it."

Hyroan stood, "I will remove myself from the investigation as well, Ranger T’Gree. Your advice is well meant and well taken."

"All statements have been officially recorded," Mother intoned.

"Thank you, AI Mother," Jance replied.

Ben turned to Elrond. "Are you and your folks ready for this?"

"Yeah, really, all we truly wanted was to save our families and loved ones. You've done that and more. Thank you again for everything you've done for us, Ben," Elrond replied.

"Well, like I told you before, we really don't have a way to track you even if 'house arrest' is not a term the Rangers would understand. Gail has told me that she has made the brig as comfortable as she could for you and your people. With luck, you folks won't be in there long," Ben replied.

"You're a good man, Prime Council," the other Captain, Gerent, said as he joined them. "I'm very glad Elrond convinced us to come here. You took a hell of risk for us and our families and made it pay off."

Ben smiled at the gruff older man. "We aren't finished yet, Captain. Now, we just need to clear you and the rest of these folks. Remember, Mother will be monitoring the brig at all times; if you need to speak to me, simply ask her and I'll get back to you as quickly as I can."

Gerent nodded. "You should probably call in your guards, now that we're officially under arrest; the Rangers will want us sequestered as soon as possible."

Ben nodded his agreement and stepped back beside Jance. "General Greenwold, please have our Marines escort the accused to the Brig and see to their needs. Do not separate couples."

"At once, Prime Council," Gail replied, "But I think you and the Commander should check out Mother's report on the abandoned base; there has been some developments," she replied before calling in a platoon of guards.

"Mother? What's been going on at the old base?" Ben asked.

"The floaters arrived at the location shortly after Commander Halst began speaking. I would have interrupted but it was official. The floaters arrived, took position, but did not immediately do anything else.

"I could only wait until our probe arrived in the area and examined the base. What it found is very troubling," Mother replied and restored the video feed to the holographic imager.

"T'Gree!" Jance said, and waved him closer since the image was large in scale but small in detail. The Ranger joined them and narrowed his eyes. "Very sneaky! The Duke, knowing we were still in orbit, ordered troop ships to hide under the floaters. Those ships are now docked at the base, no doubt to kill the pirates for failing to kill us," he said quietly. "Mother, is your probe capable of detecting sonic resonance?"

"Yes Ranger T’Gree," Mother said. "Using the imaging system, this is what the probe has detected."

The image showed each of the four ships docking at four different and diverse locks into the base. Large, humanoid troops dressed in armor, burst through each lock and began an assault of the base. It was clear they were looking for the occupants.

"As much as I hate to say it, the Duke could easily claim that he had simply discovered the hidden base via his own investigation, and sent in his troops to capture the pirates," Hyroan offered. He had joined the group to observe more of the interactions with the AI, while the other Rangers quietly spoke to the other attendees.

Jance shook her head. "Negative, given the distance to this location from the closest available port, the floaters had to have been dispatched well before our ship left this world. Add to that the need to hide his troop ships under the floaters themselves indicates he wished them to remain hidden from orbital observation." She looked at the slim Ranger to her left. "T'Gree, did you get the scans from the Dalphine?"

"Yes Commander, although I have not yet had the time to review them," T'Gree replied.

"Please do so, I only wish we could display it here. Not having the ship at our disposal is going to hamper our efforts here," she sighed.

"Perhaps not Commander," Mother intoned. "Prime Council may I have your permission to summon the appropriate personnel to the base to assist the Rangers, while we work to make our systems compatible with theirs? Ranger Hyroan can certify my existence and function?"

"At this point, I feel there is little reason to hide any of our secrets from the Rangers. I intend to allow this, as well as access to the Command and Control section of this base. Please forward your opinions and replies as well as any pertinent questions to Vice-Councilor Bedouin immediately. Councilor Carlyle, would you consider coming here? I am beginning to feel the need for your analytical expertise."

"Indeed, Prime. I have anticipated your request and am in route to you as we speak. Events have prompted me to reconsider my current position. I have tendered my resignation to the Council in favor of applying for the Ministry of Intelligence," Carlyle replied. "With little need for the espionage aspects, I find that I feel far more suited to that office than as a Councilor."

"I understand, Councilor. We will have to discuss this more, later. For the time being, thank you for your wisdom," Ben replied.

Jorga entered and joined them. "Ben, the Council agrees with you and approved your proposed actions, however, I have been asked to let you know they are very uneasy about this situation."

"Commander, Rangers, please allow me to introduce my Vice-Councilor and assistant, as well as my wife, Jorga Bedouin," Ben replied smiling proudly at her. "Jorga, it is my honor and pleasure to make known to you, Ranger Commander Jance Halst, Ranger Officer T'Gree, and Ranger Officer Hyroan of the Hyclarion Rangers," he finished.

Jorga smiled and bowed her head at each being as they were introduced. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Rangers; Commander."

"The honor is ours Vice Council," Jance replied smiling at the young woman.

Ben grinned at the blushing Jorga. "Jorga, could you get with Marcy to have our tech people work with the Rangers so they can use our systems during their investigations. Also Ranger Hyroan will need a guide to take him to Mother's vault. He needs to verify her operations in order for the Empire to trust her data."

"Certainly, Ben. I know just the girl for the job!" Jorga said and was about to see to his orders when Ranger Sc'ellese stopped her. "Please Citizen, abide a moment."

Jorga looked surprised but stayed put. Sc'ellese turned to her Commander. "Commander, this young woman is enhanced."

"Are you certain, Sc'ellese?" Jance asked.

The Ranger nodded. "Engage your Combat enhancement, and you will get a read on her."

Jance seemed to jerk slightly and looked closely at Jorga. "She is not enhanced for combat, but you are correct, she is enhanced. Prime Council, can you explain this?"

"Before the fall of our world, Jorga developed a form of a deadly disease we called cancer. We now know that is no longer a deadly disease, but at that time, it was most often fatal to its victims. Her mother, one of our more promising medical researchers at the time, had been working on a form of bio-cybernetic treatment, as this disease ran in her family. When it was determined that our conventional medical knowledge at the time had been insufficient to save her life, Jorga volunteered to test the devices her mother had developed. The treatment worked, and she has been cancer free for almost two consecutive years. She retains the devices as part of an ongoing experiment. No other individuals here have them," Ben explained. "Is this a problem?"

"The use of biological enhancement has been restricted by the Empire. The enhancement of non-Ranger personnel is illegal. However, Vice Council, in actual time, how long have you had these enhancements?" Jance asked.

"Eight thousand, two hundred and ninety years, Commander. We call them biocytes or nanocytes, I can assure you, this was not an intentional violation as we didn't even know the Empire existed at the time," Jorga replied.

"That much is understood, Vice Council. However, this knowledge is very strictly controlled and regulated by the Empire. The fact that you developed it on your own and began its use well before such knowledge was even available to the Empire prevents me from arresting you and your mother. However, I have to officially request that any knowledge you have of this be very closely regulated if not sealed completely. I am certain that the Empire will insist you either abandon its use completely, or very tightly regulate it."

"At the very least that much," Sc'ellese agreed.

"All information and research on this has already been classified, however, because of the potential medical applications for this, I have allowed Doctor Lowe to continue. Knowledge that Jorga still has the nanocytes in her is also not public knowledge," Ben replied.

"That is also the way it is handled in the Empire, Prime Council. Temporary enhancement for the treatment of medical issues is acceptable as long as the enhancements are removed from the patient prior to leaving the medical facility," Sc'ellese replied, nodding. "I am the unit medical specialist, which is how I detected the enhancements in your Vice Council. I am not yet what you would call a doctor, as I am still in training."

Ben nodded his understanding. "If time permits, perhaps I can arrange for you to meet Doctor Lowe so you may set your mind at ease in this matter."

"I think I would like that, if for no other reason than to meet such an extraordinary sounding being. For her to have developed this technology even ahead of the Empire is fascinating," Sc'ellese replied.

"My mother is an amazing woman; I am very proud of her," Jorga said. "If you will excuse me, I need to get the techs moving. Councilor Carlyle will arrive in an hour, Ben."

"If you knew she was coming, why didn't you warn me?" Ben asked.

"Well, you were kinda busy at the time!" Jorga shot back as she moved away.

"Commander, look at this," T’Gree said after Jorga departed. The Ranger was holding a device not unlike a tablet, and he held it out so his commander could see it also.

"On the surface this does appear to be a safety shelter, however, the Dalphine was able to get a very good scan of the top most parts of this facility. The rock formations Citizen Amrath described are indeed a great many camouflaged ships. They are clearly troop transports, although because of the magnetic fields generated by the camouflage, we cannot accurately identify them as belonging to the Duchy of Cassius, although they certainly match the design.

"Perhaps the more troubling item here is that this sea shack is clearly nothing of the sort. Even with the ships sitting directly over the upper portions of this, we got a good reading down to about a hundred ticks under the bottom of the sea. While there are clearly more levels to this than we could see, the uppermost four are visible.

"The original sea shack has been expanded and is being used for storage. I would assume it was to this that Citizen Amrath took the supposedly stolen cargos. The next level appears to be either offices or officer quarters. There is also a small armory situated here, by the lift.

"The next level is a larger armory and barracks. Depending on the race of the troops, this could easily hold a thousand soldiers. The level below it is the same, although the resolution had begun to fade making it difficult to be certain. The next three or four levels are the same size and shape as the barracks levels so it would be a safe assumption that they too share the same layout.

Based on what we see here, there are at least five thousand house troops in this facility with the strong possibility of many more. It must be close to capacity as the ocean is no longer dissipating the over-all heat signature generated," the thin alien explained.

Jance nodded. "While you two are working with these people, try to find a way to get me a working comm back to Hyclarion. I'm getting a really bad feeling about all of this."

"Only now?" Sc'ellese asked. "I've had a bad feeling about it since our new friends told us what they knew and suspected."

"Rangers, the ducal troops appear to be leaving the base," Mother replied. "Our scan was detected by the troop ships, and they are actively searching for the source. For now they do not appear to have located the drone. The floaters on the surface are flooding the area with sonar pulses."

"Where is the drone, Mother?" Ben asked quickly.

"In order to provide the highest resolution for acoustical imaging, I placed it in contact with the outer hull of one of the base bulkheads. If it is seen, it should be mistaken as a part of the base." A small green dot appeared on the image of the base. "This is the location I placed the drone."

"Does the drone contain a self-destruct device?" T’Gree asked.

"It does Ranger T’Gree. If it is discovered, the power unit will insure the complete destruction of the drone. When used as a weapon the power unit is used as a trigger to detonate the payload," Mother explained.

"Dare I ask what the payload is?" Jance asked.

"This model was used at the end of the last war. While we no long currently stock the more powerful or destructive payloads, it is capable of delivering an antimatter-enhanced nuclear payload equivalent to a standard Empirical anti-ship missile. This is based on the information available on the InfoNet regarding standard Imperial Weapons systems," Mother explained.

"Thank you for clarifying that, Mother," Jance said.

"Mother, have you been able to monitor the communications to and from this facility?" T’Gree asked.

"I have been able to detect it, Ranger. I will not have the encryption protocols for another two hours and twenty-one minutes," Mother replied.

"Wait, did you just say you will be able to hack into their comms?" Jance asked.

"Affirmative, Commander. The protocols are not that difficult; in point of fact, the pattern currently being used appears to be a number of years older than what was used at this base just before the final evacuation," Mather explained.

"Mother, you said earlier that the Duke had used an old encrypted email program to send his orders to the pirates, didn't you?" Ben asked.

"I did, which caused me to take a second look at the encryption patterns currently in use. They are all based on Pre-Fall, human communications encryptions logarithms," Mother replied. "Once I have identified the base key, I'll have full access to all encrypted communications on the planet."

"Amazing, and Duke Tammerain is regarded as one of the leading data encryption experts in the Empire! That was why we originally doubted your claim as having decoded messages from him," Hyroan replied.

"We actually went one better than that, Ranger Hyroan!" Jorga replied as she rejoined them. "Mother, please play the recorded message I sent you when I went to the pirate base."

"Hello? How can I help you sir?" a young man could be heard to clearly ask.

A distorted voice replied. "Who are you? I want to speak to Elrond! Go get your leader, now!"

"I'm sorry sir, Captain Elrond is not available right now; he's out on a business trip," the young man replied.

"I don't care where he is you little Juuntic! Put me through to him right now, or I'll eat your liver for my breakfast! Do you understand me?" the voice replied.

"I have no idea who the hell you are sir, but threatening me won't help you. If you have nothing else to say, we can terminate this contact right now; I have my own duties to take care of. Getting insulted by you is not one of them!" the young man countered.

The next voice that spoke was not distorted. "This is Duke Tammerain of Cassius you stupid fucking primate! Authorization code hasspen-creta-zero-break-gorth-nine-nine. Now put me through to Elrond! Now!"

When the young man replied he sounded suitably frightened. "M... My Lord! Forgive me! I had no way of knowing! B-but I'm afraid I still can't put you through to him, he's out preparing a trap for the Rangers as you commanded, Sire! W-we don't expect them back for another two days!"

"Listen closely human; I don’t care how you do it, but you better get a message to him telling him the Rangers will be leaving the planet mid-day tomorrow! If he sylphss' this up, I'll have the lot of you as the main course at the next festival! Do you understand me?" the Duke replied, still without the distortion.

"Code verified, voice tonal and pattern check matched. That is the Duke speaking, Commander," T’Gree said softly.

"Yes, M'Lord! We will get the message to him right away!" the young man said.

"Good, now delete this message immediately!" the Duke ordered followed by the soft tone indicating a disconnection.

Jance smiled at Jorga. "I have no idea how under the seven suns you managed to pull that off, but that is absolute proof that the Duke of Cassius ordered the deaths of a Ranger team. While that is bad enough for us to arrest him, it doesn't prove he is trying to over-throw the empire. We're going to need much more evidence than one small facility full of troops on a planet that has been having pirate troubles."

"Captain Elrond suggested someone investigate the Vega nebula. He said it's one of the only places a fleet of ships the size of what he'd need could hide. We have no way of doing that ourselves, or we would have," Ben offered. "But he would need more than five thousand troops here if he planned on taking the Capitol."

"That is why I asked AI Mother if she could monitor the Duke's communications to the false sea shack. Perhaps she could search for other locations based on the communications patterns to and from the Argassi Comm Center,"

"Prime Council, Commander, Rangers, the Ducal troops are departing. The floaters on the surface are dropping large objects into the water over the base," Mother reported. The image in the hologram changed to that of the surface again. The four floaters could be seen pushing their cargos off the rear of each big ship.

"That cannot be good," Sc'ellese said softly.

"Indeed, Ranger. I'd bet that those crates are full of an explosive of some kind," Jorga said

"That would be a fool's wager, Vice Council," Hyroan replied.

As they watched, several of the large crates could be seen falling and coming to a rest on the bottom very near to the old base. Some of them actually came to rest on top of it. But none of them detonated. The watchers looked on in silence as all the crates from the surface came to rest on the bottom. On the surface, the now empty floaters engaged their drive systems and turned back for port.

"Please tell me none of those crates are radioactive, Mother," Ben said.

"I cannot, Prime. However, I would not believe a nuclear weapon would be used here. There are too many crates; if it were a nuclear explosive, there would have been only one. Still, the number of crates is clearly over-kill on the part of the Duke. I would recommend sealing the base against the pressure wave," Mother reported.

Ben nodded quickly. "Do it, and tell everyone to hang on to something."

"How far away is that place?" Sc'ellese asked.

"A hundred and fifty klicks shallower, and almost two sectors away," Ben replied. "But we're going to feel it, anyway. Mother, if you can safely recover the drone, bring it back."

Just as she was about to reply the image being sent from the probe disappeared. "Prime Council, the Drone has been destroyed." Just then the base began to shake and a low rumble could be heard. Both quickly faded.

“Damage report?" Ben asked.

"Transit tunnel four-three-three is reporting moderate damage along a three mile section closest to the explosion. Traffic has been rerouted around the damaged section. Councilor Carlyle will be delayed by three hours. Transit Authority is already dispatching repair drones to the affected areas. Minimal damage to some personal effects in the closest pods. No injuries, no further damage to report," Mother replied.

Ben nodded. "Good, please inform Captain Elrond that his former base has been destroyed.

Deirdre walked up to him then. "Excuse me, Ben, folks are starting to panic. How much can I tell them?"

"Tell them the truth, and that no one was harmed. Also reassure them that we remain undiscovered and all our people are safe," Ben replied. "Let them know I'll talk to everyone, in person, as soon we have more information. Just telling them that the Rangers are here and we've made friends will most likely freak them out."

Chapter Nine

Terran Marine Base Alpha

Computer Section - AI Vault

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

Hyroan regarded his young guide with some amusement. Vice Council Bedouin had taken him aside and apologized in advance for her little sister. She explained that the girl was the absolute best guide she could give him; she was very young, very curious, and very talkative.

Young Hanna introduced herself to him very politely, but he could see that she was indeed a very young girl. As soon as they got out of hearing range of the her sister, she started talking and hadn't slowed down at all during the forty-five minute journey to the AI Vault. Hyroan, however, learned a great deal from her. She was only fourteen local years old and idolized her older sister. She and Jorga were the children of Constable William and Doctor Hope Lowe.

Hyroan had to stop her so he could find out what a Constable was, but she explained quickly and got right back to talking. Hyroan didn't really mind, he had a younger sister as well, and she tended to jabber on as well. He understood that she was most likely very nervous and was compensating for that by talking. He just hoped she would continue to remember to breathe.

Hyroan also discovered that the survivors of old earth were currently very concerned by the events taking place on the surface and had been very leery of their Council's plan to make contact. But all of them agreed that events had given them little choice. Through the little chatterbox, Hyroan learned a great deal about these humans from the past and how brave they had to have been to undertake such a journey as they had. A blind jump into the future with no idea what the world would be like once they emerged.

Which is what young Hanna was jabbering about at the moment. He had gotten used to her voice so he was rather surprised when she abruptly stopped talking.

"My apologies, Hanna, I was sort of daydreaming about what you were talking about and didn't actually hear what you said," Hyroan admitted.

She smiled and blushed slightly. "That's okay sir, I know I talk way too much. I'm just really happy you listened as long as you have. But, we're here, the AI Vault. Do you want me to stick around, or do you think you can find your way back?"

"Miss Hanna, if you would, could you please remain with Ranger Hyroan in the event he needs something or further information?" Mother asked.

"Sure I can, I was just trying to make sure I hadn't driven him bonkers with all my talking, Mother," Hanna replied.

"I don't mind really. You remind me of my own little sister back on Hyclarion. I haven't gotten to see her very much for the last couple of years and I miss her. Besides, you've helped me to understand the people here a lot better." Hyroan replied.

"When did I do that?" Hanna asked.

"Just now, while you led me here. By talking about your life here and what it was like before, I have a better understanding of your culture and the society here. In a lot of ways it's different than mine, but there is a lot we have in common as well," Hyroan replied. "It helps to know that I'm working to help good people. That's why I became a Ranger."

"Really, was it hard to become a Ranger?" Hanna asked.

Hyroan nodded. "It was pretty hard, but I think it’s been worth it. I know my parents are proud of me and feel good about the work I do most of the time. It can be pretty dangerous, but knowing I'm protecting folks and making our world a better place has made it very fulfilling to me."

"Jorga said you couldn’t take your helmet off because you can't breathe our atmosphere. Which is too bad 'cause I was going to get us some lunch," Hanna replied.

"I can breathe it for very short periods, plus my enhancements will help make sure I don't suffer any damage from it," Hyroan replied. "But I don't think you have any of the food I'm used to."

Hanna nodded, but brightened up. "I could get us some Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches! Everyone can eat those!"

"I'm afraid the Ranger is correct, Miss Hanna. He might not be able to eat that," Mother said kindly. "Doctor Lyam would have to check to make sure he could eat it first."

"I appreciate the offer though, Hanna. Thank you!" Hyroan said, making Hanna smile again. "Now, I really should get busy or the Commander will be upset with me."

Mother opened her vault door for the Ranger and his guide. "My systems have been laid out in sections, Ranger Hyroan. Where would you like to start?"

"Primary and secondary logic centers please. Without knowing how that works, none of the rest would make much sense to me," Hyroan replied.

"Ranger Hyroan, with your permission, I would like to take this opportunity to test a theory I have about your young guide while you evaluate my systems?"  Mother asked.

"As long as I can still do the evaluation, I don't see the problem, Mother," Hyroan replied.

"Thank you, Ranger. Hanna, please take a seat at the main terminal. I will need you to log in using your name and password," Mother instructed.

At first, Hyroan was curious as to what Mother had in mind for the young woman. But as her instructions to the young woman became clear to him, as well as the young girl's interest being captured, it became obvious what Mother was doing; she was training the young girl.

On a separate terminal, out of Hanna's sight, mother posted a message to him. "Ranger Hyroan, at present, there is no one in our population capable of repairing me if I have a major malfunction. After observing young Hanna for the last couple of weeks, I believe her to have the right... personality for the position. She certainly has the aptitude as you can see. Her instruction will most likely take longer than your evaluation will take, however, during this initial session, I will instruct her on the nature and structure of my primary and secondary logic centers. If you have any questions or would like to see something different, please simply ask or enter the question on this terminal and I will answer you. Is this acceptable?"

Speaking quietly so as not to disturb Hanna, Hyroan replied. "Perfectly acceptable, Mother. If I may assist in her training during our stay here, please feel free to call on me."

"I had actually planned on asking you to speak to her about the ethics and discretion required of this position. I have reviewed these requirements via the Imperial InfoNet and find them to be most satisfactory. With your commander's permission, and in so far as it does not impeded or influence your investigations, your assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated," Mother replied.

"I would be honored. However, I would also have to speak to the young woman's guardians before I begin," Hyroan explained.

"If you would like I can make an appointment for you with them for later this evening or perhaps tomorrow?" Mother asked. "I hope you understand my reasoning for the urgency I am assigning this project."

"Yes I do, currently, I am the only person on the planet capable of repairing you if you were to take damage or experience a hardware malfunction. Given this... colony's dependence upon you, such a malfunction could have catastrophic results," Hyroan explained.

"You are correct, Ranger Hyroan. There are many redundancies built into my systems, as well as the existence of other AI that share my design on the planet. However, one of my core instructions requires me to ensure my own survival as long as such does not endanger human life or injury. Because of this core directive, a very high priority has been assigned to this project while I evaluated the populations for potential candidates. Indeed all my sister AI are doing so as well," Mother explained.

"I understand, Mother. I will assist to the best of my ability. I do have a question, if I may?" Hyroan asked.

"Of course, Ranger, that is after all why we are here," Mother replied.

"I know you are still explaining it to Hanna, but your primary processing matrix is far too small for the operations I have witnessed you performing. How do you explain this?" Hyroan asked.

"I take it then you are unfamiliar with meta-state processing matrices?" Mother asked.

"I've never heard of them, are you telling me you utilize an entirely different type of processing system?" Hyroan asked.

"One moment while I search for relevant data," Mother replied. "There it is. My apologies, Ranger Hyroan, I had to search for the information regarding current AI primary logic clusters. From what I am seeing here, the system I am using operates on the same base principles; that is, the data input would have the same output, however, the hardware that performs this function is very different. I will explain how the meta-state processing and memory crystals function. I have to instruct Hanna in this as well. My entire system is based on the meta-state technology developed by Doctors Ishiro Takahashi, Irandar Eiskidranian, Carl Hobs and Alexander Petronivitch..." Mother explained and began teaching both Ranger and fourteen-year-old, the theory and science of meta-state computing.

Command and Control bunker

Terran Defense Forces Base Alpha One

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

"I must say Prime, you are being very helpful to us, considering the circumstances," Jance said while she and Ben watched the techs work with the Rangers to get their equipment to work together.

"Even before the Fall, I was raised to have a great respect for law enforcement personnel," Ben explained. "Granted, there were instances where the police in question did not deserve that respect, but for the most part, they were men and women that were simply trying to do their jobs and protect the rest of us. The legal system had its flaws, but it was the only one we had. From what I can see, that really hasn't changed all that much. You and your team have a job to do. As citizens, it is our duty to assist as much as we can when we are able.

"In this situation, it is doubly important to help because the whole damn empire is at risk. At least, you can understand why we believe what we told you about Duke Tammerain now," Ben finished.

Jance nodded. "The Imperial legal system is not perfect, but it is the best we can make it considering the diversity of the citizens. It is also under constant revision to make adjustments for unforeseen situations. As far as the accusation of Treason you have made against Duke Tammerain, I will not be filing charges against you. You and your people are justified in your belief and my team shares your concern. Indeed we are now working to find the proof required for us to arrest the Duke on those charges. The problem is that as a member of the Imperial Court that proof has to be pretty conclusive."

Ben nodded. "Somehow, I doubt we'll ever get him to admit it in front of you or your team."

"Oh, I could most likely get him to admit it. He has a temper after all, but the circumstance would have to be very specific," Jance replied.

"With respect, I think I'll leave that up to you. If I can help it, I don't think I want to get any closer to that big fuckin' lizard than I am right now," Ben replied.

Jance nodded. "Understandable, it is a well-known fact that very few of that race are socially compatible with the rest of the Empire. By and large, they are a dangerous species that view a good portion of the rest of us as a food source, which is the whole reason there was a war between us. It would be akin to one of our Coola farmers having his herd rebel against him and forcing him to live in equality with them. I doubt they will ever accept the rest of the Empire as their equals."

"Forgive me, but isn't that a somewhat prejudiced opinion for a Ranger to have?" Ben asked.

Jance nodded. "It is. Unfortunately it isn't one without justification. Even among their own race, trust of the individual is a rare thing. The Lizards are a very violent species; they have to be, or they would breed themselves into extinction. Only two percent of a clutch of Lizard eggs is allowed to become part of their society. They set aside another ten percent for use as their military assault troops. But even with restricting it to two percent, their still have to control their population by staging tournaments at several stages of development. These tournaments amount too little more than massive battles among the younglings. Each battle is to the death and is only stopped once the required amount of culling has been achieved."

"It sounds horribly brutal," Ben asked. "If they are so warlike, how does the Empire expect to maintain the peace?"

"They don't," Jance said bluntly. "Even the Emperor knows that war with the Lizards is inevitable. Unfortunately, most believe that such a war will be to the death - either of the Empire, or of the Lizards." She looked at him. "Your 'Earth' is on the border between them. Are you still sure you want to declare this as your home planet?"

Ben shrugged. "It is our home planet, Commander. Just because we're going to have a front row seat to another war doesn't change that fact." In front of them, one of Ben's techs went to a replicator to retrieve something before turning back to his work.

Jance nodded her understanding. "Prime Council, there is something I've been meaning to ask you about, however it is only my curiosity and you are not required to answer me if you do not wish to."

"I'll answer if I can, Commander," Ben replied.

"That is the second or third time I've seen someone go to that device and retrieve something. May I ask what that device is?" Jance asked pointing to the replicator.

"You don't have replication technology, Commander?" Ben asked.

She shook her head. "No, I don't think I've ever heard of it before. What is it?"

"I'm not a tech, so I couldn't tell you how it does what it does, but currently, it's our primary food and supply source. As I understand it, it can scan an item and create a pattern for it, then it can recreate that item by consolidating and restructuring matter into the desired form. It has some odd quirks to it, but for the most part, it's saved us from starving," Ben replied.

"It creates materiel goods from a molecular model?" Jance asked.

Ben shrugged. "I believe so, like I said, I'm not a tech or an engineer so I couldn't answer you exactly, but I think that's pretty close to how I understand it."

"Amazing, that could completely revolutionize space travel! Not to mention the military applications. Could you show me how it works?" Jance asked.

"Yes I can, but I feel I need to warn you, the Consortium might not be very happy with us for using these," Ben replied.

"Why would they? I'm certain that this is something that would be a huge benefit to the entire Empire," Jance replied.

"Well, let me put it to you this way, the Hyclarion Consortium is primarily a corporate state, correct?" Ben asked.

"Basically, yes, you are correct, however there is a lot more to it than that," Jance replied.

"Well, this technology could completely destroy the economy of the Empire. Think about it this way; this device creates almost any materiel good from what amounts to 'thin air'. There is no raw material needed to be mined, no ore to be processed, no labor needed to assemble it, virtually there is nothing needed to create it. So, if there was no cost in creating it, then no one got paid to build it, if no one got paid, then how could they afford to buy the product?" Ben explained. "We are only using it as a stop gap measure until our industry gets moving. Once we can get that going, we will be locking this system away."

"I never thought about that aspect," Jance replied. "I think you might be correct about how it would impact the Empire as a whole, but it could still be used aboard military craft."

"Agreed, it could, but how many industries rely on the military just to stay in business?" Ben asked. "Who made your side arm?"

"Most of the small arms we use were built by Orangam Arms Incorporated, on Hyclarion. It's owned by the Emperor's family," she replied.

Ben nodded as he stepped over to the device. "May I borrow it a moment, and is its design classified?"

She shook her head. "No, it's not classified," she replied as she handed the weapon over, grips first.

Ben carefully took the weapon and set it on the pad in the machine. He then touched the control to scan the item for storage. After a couple of seconds, the device beeped at him and he removed the handgun, handing it immediately back to Jance.

"Now, let's see if it understands the device enough to recreate it," Ben said and asked for it to be replicated.

It took a few seconds, but a new pistol formed on the pad. This too he handed to Jance. "Does this look like it would work?"

Jance took the weapon, popped a small cylinder out of the handle, which she pocketed, then proceeded to tear it down. "It certainly looks to be complete, but I'd have to fire it to be certain." She reassembled the small weapon, when she had returned the cylinder to its place, she pulled a small slide back and let it snap forward. The weapon could be heard to whine as a charge was built up.

"It appears fully functional, Prime Council," Jance replied.

Ben nodded. "What you have in your hand is as close to identical to the one in your holster as is physically possible. At present, I doubt even the manufacturer could tell them apart."

"Not possible, every weapon leaves a unique energy signature; that's just basic physics," Jance replied.

"We have a firing range down below the base if you would like to test out that certainty, Commander," Gail replied smiling.

"This is fascinating, I think I would like to take you up on the offer, General." She looked at one of her Rangers. "How much longer T’Gree?"

"At least an hour, probably two. You have time to go play, Commander," T’Gree said smiling.

"Which reminds me," Ben replied. "Commander, our local medical doctor would like to get a scan of all of you. He is curious about the other species and the information would help us to make sure our food is safe for you to eat."

"That will have to be a personal decision for each of my team to make, however, I will allow it if they will," Jance replied. "However, I would like to speak to your doctor first."

Command Pod Alpha One

25 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

To say that Commander Jance was a person of great interest to the pod residents would be an understatement. Both on the way to and back from the medical section, Ben and she had been stopped by the curious and asked questions. No one was hostile or even overly fearful, but all of them were respectful to the visitor and welcomed her.

Ben took her back to his apartment to meet the rest of his family and grab something to eat, since lunch had come and gone while he had been speaking with their guests.

Jon had cleared the Commander to eat any and all types of food currently available, so Ben decided to offer her lunch, which she accepted.

"I must say, Prime Council, your people are very polite and did not seem fearful of me at all," Jance said.

"While we're alone, or it's unofficial, please, call me Ben," Ben replied. "They all know who you are and what you're doing here. The all approved our plan for making peaceful contact with the Empire. They see you as not only a Policeman, but as a representative of the Empire we wish to join. None of the people, at least in our pod group, have ever had reason to fear Police. Most are like me, they were raised to be respectful to you and assist when they can. They're pretty good folks."

"They seem like it. I could see that they like and respect you as well. The obvious concern you show for them tells me you are good leader, regardless of your obvious age," Jance replied. "You may call me Jance when we are off duty."

Ben smiled and shook his head. "I originally thought the only reason I got stuck as the leader here was because I'm the son of the man who built all of this. However, I've been told that my father had been subtly grooming me for this my entire life. Before the fall, I never thought I would ever be in a position like this, but here we are and this is what it is."

"Considering the circumstances, I think it took a great amount of courage to approach us as you did," Jance replied.

"Well, we had to do something. We would have to emerge sooner or later, and once we discovered what was going on with the Duke, we knew we had to do it while we still could. More than anything else, the situation on the surface forced our hand. We couldn't sit idly by and let a being we knew was hostile to us destroy the only potential... well, ally we might find. We already knew what we could expect from the Duke based on our own records. I will admit we did consider just assassinating him, but it was dismissed as we did not have as good an understanding of Imperial Law as we do now," Ben replied.

"Do you seek to join the Empire as a Nation or as potential imperial subjects?" Jance asked as she took a bite of her cheeseburger. Her eyes lit up as the flavors hit her.

"We would like to apply as a free nation under the Empire if we could. Before the fall, most of our population was governed by many different types of rulers, and not all of them were feudal in structure so it might be a little uncomfortable for some to make the transition rapidly. If we maintained some form of control, at least on a temporary basis, I feel it might go a long way to helping our folks to learn to trust the Empire," Ben explained.

"That makes sense, but I don't know how well the rest of the human race will take it. Almost our entire race has been living under one form of oppression or another. The majority of our people are subjects of the Lizards, although Duke Tammerain seems to have the largest number of humans in his duchy," Jance explained.

"Well, we don't necessarily want to force our rule on anyone else, I mean how many humans are there spread out all over the galaxy? What would happen if all of them suddenly returned here? It would be a disaster if we didn't have the structure to support them. For the time being, we have thought to simply offer citizenship to the people. That way, they can accept or not, as they would," Ben replied. "But no final decision has been reached on that as yet."

"If we prove treason on the part of Duke Tammerain, there is a better than average chance you will end up with the entire duchy under your banner. In effect, you would become the next Duke of Cassius. Which means you would immediately become responsible for over four hundred billion beings, of which only ten billion or so are human.

"However, if you insist on becoming a separate nation-state; only claiming this world and what members of the human race as wish to join you, you will still end up with the ten billion humans from the duchy as well as another seven or eight billion spread across the rest of the Lizard duchies. Humans remaining in the Empire proper number under a billion, but I think most of them would accept Earth as a home world, but decline surrendering their current citizenship," Jance explained. "You should probably start planning for that."

"Holy shit! We had no idea there were so many of us out there! We thought the numbers would be far lower!" Ben replied.

"Of course, we can't prove it, but for a few years now, many of the Lizard Dukes have been... increasing their human populations. We've heard rumors of forced breeding camps and have uncovered and disbanded one cloning laboratory. Remember, the Lizards think we're tasty as hell. But, since we're alone here, can I give you something to think about Ben?" Jance asked.

"Sure, I'll take any suggestions you would care to offer at this point," Ben replied.

"Okay, by and large, our people support the Empire in general and the Emperor specifically. Compared to the rest of the Empire, we breed like rabbits. Very soon, you are going to have a truly huge population, and you are going to be stuck between two warring nations. Perhaps you should consider building a fleet of warships. At the least, you would be able to defend your world; but at the same time, you could be a great asset to the Empire. It would mean joining in a war not of your own making or choosing, but in the end, you would have truly made this place the home of the human race," Jance said. "Just so you know, I did not mention this as a Ranger, or as a servant of the Empire. I am merely giving you information as I see it, from one citizen to another."

Ben was a little shocked and couldn't keep that shock from registering on his face. "I thank you for that. I will have to inform the rest of the Council as soon as I can. Our current plans are going to be woefully inadequate. Wait, like you, none of the other humans in the galaxy can actually breathe the atmosphere here, so for the time being at least, they simply can't come here or they might die." He shook his head. "Yeah, we are going to have to revise everything."

"I am sorry for the shock of that knowledge, but I felt you might want to know the situation before it became an issue," Jance replied. "There is one other thing, although I am hesitant to speak of it; you're augmentation process. By law, the Empire cannot prohibit you from pursuing this field of knowledge as you have proven that it predates their own knowledge. However, you can use it as a bargaining tool with them. If you decide to join the fight on the side of the Empire, you have the means and the knowledge to field a very impressive military. However, you lack the resources to actually build such. I cannot speak on the details, but one of the things most feared by a good portion of the lizards are augmented humans. However, if the Emperor knows beyond doubt that such a thing has no reason to be feared by the true Empire, he would help you in building your military. It might be a covert assistance, but that might be something you should take into account during your deliberations."

"Commander, you have already helped us very much, I just wish I could keep you! You know more about what we need to do than anyone I've spoken to so far," Ben replied.

"I am but a servant of my Lord Emperor's Will, it is my honor and duty to be of assistance in this manner," she replied formally, but was grinning. "Can I have another of those cheeseburgers? That was delicious!"

Ranger Outpost 050 Headquarters

Commissioner Holdst's Office

Cygnus Minor Ranger Base

Hyclarion, Sirius System

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

"Ranger Hojoh, do you honestly expect me to believe this report? Where is your Commander, really?" Commissioner Holdst asked.

"With respect, Commissioner, she told me that you wouldn’t believe a word of it. However, she also told me to tell you that as hard as it is to believe, she is deadly serious. She ordered me to make sure I convinced you of this," Hojoh replied. He had heard Jance's report and he had a hard time believing it himself, except for that destroyer that was trying to kill them. "I would have a hard time with it myself, Commissioner, except for the fact that there was a destroyer in orbit of that world that was trying to kill us."

"Relax Hojoh, I believe you. Jance is a lot of things, but prone to exaggeration is not one of them. If she says there is a reason to be more vigilant, then there is." The large male leaned back on his seat in thought. Then opened a channel to his aide.

"Jontas, order the Ranger Scout Humorin into the Vega nebula tell them to try to stay cloaked as well as they can, but be aware that there might be hostile ships hiding in there. With the exception of Scout Galias and Patrol Junio, ready them to go to the Planet Terral III in full stealth mode. Heavy combat load. Ready my cruiser as well."

"At once Commissioner, what orders for the ships remaining here?" the aide asked.

"Routine duties, I also want a full fleet status before we depart. Including the home fleet," the Commissioner replied.

"Commissioner, the home fleet is the only one in this sector, the rest of the fleets have been dispatched around the Empire on various tasks," the aide reported. "We received a dispatch about that last month."

"They have not yet returned?" he asked. "How many of those 'tasks' are to lizard space?"

"One moment, Commissioner." The aide replied.

Hojoh had never seen this anxious look on his superior's face before. "Sir, are you well?"

"No, Hojoh. I'm beginning to have a very bad feeling about this," the Commissioner replied.

The aide replied. "Sir, it looks like there are a lot of them, I would say that the majority of the Imperial Fleets are in lizard space, but they are pretty spread out so the list of assignments is still compiling."

"Abort, I have the answer I needed. Connect me with First Admiral Yolinar - eyes only, astral priority!" the Commissioner replied. He looked up at Hojoh, "Ranger Hojoh, return to your ship and replenish your supplies. Recruit a couple of cadets, but make certain you have a full combat load aboard. You will be going back to Terral III with us."

Hojoh saluted and quickly left the room to follow his orders.

"Sir, I have the First Admiral for you," the aide replied.

"Very good, put him through please." Before he finished speaking the image of the First Admiral took form on his viewer.

"Commissioner, the use of Astral is for wartime only, you know this, yes?" the Admiral asked casually.

"I do, Sir. I have strong reason to believe the life of the Emperor; no, the whole Empire, is at stake. Do you remember that human we promoted to Commander last year?" Holdst replied.

"Yes, a very devoted and level headed young woman, she is a credit to her race," the Admiral replied.

"I sent her to Terral III to investigate the intentional destruction of an ohto processing plant. I just received a report from her that I am forwarding to you now. She believes she has stumbled upon a plan by the lizards to finish the war. I agree with her," Holdst replied.

From the reaction the First Admiral had, Holdst suddenly realized he might not be alone in his belief. "Understood, give me a moment to get to where I can read this. What more have you discovered?"

"I've sent a stealthed patrol ship to the Vega Nebula. If this is real, that is the only place he could hide the ships he would need. With our fleets out on their current missions, it would be very easy for the lizards to destroy them as spread out as they are. They are also too far away to return here if they were needed. I intend to take the remainder of my units, less two units needed to maintain the post, to this planet to determine the threat of ground attack. Commander Jance Halst's evidence so far is very compelling and demands further investigation."

The Admiral nodded. "We recently received a report from one of our people that the lizards had been building warships on the far side of their territory. We did not get a location, but one of the things the fleets were supposed to do was to investigate this report. They have so far been prevented from doing so by minor 'emergencies' and false alarms. We have another report that Cassius has several assault carriers hidden in the Terral system. Many more than he would need to completely sterilize that world. Since we have no resources available, I was going to ask if you had a unit in that area that could look into this." The Admiral was quiet a moment while he reviewed the brief report.

When he finished, he nodded. "So, Terral III is the Human home world after all. You can only trust a lizard to lie to you. If he attacks now, we are finished. I held the home fleet here, but his majesty insisted we send the rest out in order to prove we were dedicated to the peace. I'll issue emergency recall orders immediately, but we need to get the Emperor away from here. Holdst, I am about to declare war on the lizards again. Keep in touch with me so I can try to stop it if this proves false."

"I understand, Sir, I hope it does prove false, but something is telling me it isn't," Holdst said.

"I share your concern as well as your hope. Be safe Commissioner and return as soon as you are able," the Admiral replied.

Ranger Commissioner Holdst nodded to his older brother in farewell and as the comm channel closed, he got up from his desk and headed for the armory.

About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.

Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.

He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.

Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






Join the Blue Space Publications, LLC. Newsletter (usually Bi-Weekly issues).

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)



Talosian Chronicles


Star Dancer

Talosian Alliance

*Neptune’s Massif (Dec 2015, on presale now!)

*Raptor Squadron (First Quarter of 2016)


Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus

Sword of Damocles

Abraxis Code

Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth

A Long, Dark Night

*Terra Dawning (Pre-Sale now Dec 2015)

*New Day (First Quarter of 2016)


Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Debug Mode – Episode V

*Beta Test – Episode VI (Pre-Sale now First Quarter of 2016)

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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