Book: A New Day

A New Day

A New Day

Bedouin's Travels - Part IV

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2016 Ben Winston

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 – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

Terra Dawning – Book III

New Day – Book IV

*Book V (Release Date TBA)


Respectfully dedicated to all the people of the planet Earth.

May we find harmony in our diversity,

Compromise in our differences,

And may we join together to finally reach for the stars, in peace.

Table of Contents

A New Day



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

About the Author

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

A New Day

Chapter One

Command Pod Alpha One

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

Making the arrangements for the Rangers to have quarters didn't prove to be too difficult. It had actually been easier to set up quarters for the Rangers that needed a different atmosphere than Ben thought it would be. Instead of setting up a type of airlock for them to enter, the techs attached a type of weak force field that only kept the atmosphere in the quarters.

Since most of the space was available in the base, that was where the Rangers were put. Which turned out to be what they would have preferred anyway. Amazingly, the visiting Rangers seemed to get along well with the Marines of the base, who seemed to take no notice of the fact that they were of a different race.

The civilians that encountered the Rangers were curious, but since they knew that aliens existed, they were not hostile toward the Rangers at all. Jance even commented on this to Ben.

"I would have thought that your people would have been frightened of my Rangers. None of you have encountered an alien species before this have you?"

Ben shook his head. "No, but prior to the fall, there were a lot of movies, uh, fictional performances, staged for the purpose of entertainment only, that had aliens in them. I will grant that in most cases those aliens were hostile to us in the movie, I think it did serve to remove the shock of actually meeting aliens. It also helps that everyone knows that you are not hostile to us. Somehow I doubt very much that a Lizard would be welcomed here."

Jance chuckled. "I would think not, given the situation."

"If I may ask, were the quarters provided to your satisfaction? And those of your Rangers as well? I know I seem to keep asking that, but we just want to make certain we are seeing to all of your needs," Ben asked.

"Actually, my people are very pleased with the accommodations you have provided. Even Sc'ellese is pleased with this assignment, and she can be very difficult to please. I believe her only comment was; 'The only thing missing here is a Dahmatise'. Which you can't actually provide for her," Jance replied, grinning.

"What's a 'Dahmatise'? Or do I really want to know?" Ben asked.

The woman chuckled. "I don't think you want to know the specifics, but it is a comfort/pleasure worker that would share her bed. Humans are not… uh, equipped to perform that service."

"You're right, I don't want to know. As long as the rest of your needs are being seen to, I'll stop asking," Ben replied, grinning. "During the night, Councilor Carlyle arrived and was given all of the information we have gathered on the situation. I imagine she was up late studying it, but knowing her, she will most likely join us soon."

"She is the intelligence specialist you mentioned, right?” Jance asked. When Ben nodded, she continued. "She could be a great help here. I had to leave our analyst with the Dalphine. On a different matter, Ranger Hyroan tells me that he is fascinated by your AI, as it functions in an entirely different manner than those in use by the Consortium. He said he is learning, but it will take him slightly longer than originally planned to certify Mother. However, he is completely convinced of her veracity and trustworthiness, and feels certification is only a matter of time in order to fulfill all the requirements. So until he tells me otherwise, we will continue to treat her information as accurate.

"T'Gree reports rapid and steady progress in making your systems compatible with ours. He feels that task will be completed by the end of this day. Sc'ellese tells me that none of your people have been mistreated or abused, and that your medical facilities and personnel are working hard to learn all they can from the Emergency Medical AI now called Alice, salvaged from citizen Dee's skipper," Jance finished.

Ben nodded. "I've been told pretty much the same thing from all my people. Now all we need is a way for you to communicate covertly with your base, and we'd be set."

Jance nodded. "As much as that would be desirable, it simply isn't possible. Any comm channel can be detected, but an interstellar comm signal would be like sending up a flare. When the Dalphine returns, we'll be able to hear her from orbit. My concern is what excuse will be used in order for them to return."

Imperial Palace

Imperial Residence

Hyclarion, Sirius System

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

"What is so urgent that you needed to see me on such short notice, Admiral?" His Imperial Majesty, Hjoolous, asked.

"Majesty, a realistic plot has been uncovered to attack this planet, assassinate you and seize control of the Consortium. At present, there is simply not enough protection here to keep that from happening. As your protector, we are recommending you evacuate the planet temporarily until this threat has been dealt with," First Admiral Yolinar explained.

"There are a hundred plots like this a day, what makes you so sure this one is real, Yolinar? And for the sake of the great maker, stand up! You know I hate talking to the back of your head!" Hjoolous said.

The much larger First Admiral stood as ordered. "Ranger Jance Halst has stumbled across a plot in the Terral system that has a far better than average chance of success if our suspicions are born out. There is also proof that the planet Terral III is actually the human homeworld. The agency that has provided us this evidence is a hidden human enclave that has asked for Ranger assistance in their claim. Although they have not accused the Duke of treason, they have provided the Rangers there with sufficient evidence for them to investigate further." He explained the entire situation to the young Emperor and the reasons for wanting him to evacuate.

"Those are very compelling reasons, Admiral," the Emperor replied, while he thought about what he'd been told. "Have you heard back from the patrol of the Nebula as yet?"

"No, Majesty. That patrol boat won't arrive there for another few hours yet. It was sent in under full stealth. It jumped as close as possible before engaging the cloak system and proceeding. I feel I should mention, there is a very good chance that patrol craft will be destroyed if it detects anything. At which point, Cassius will be forced to launch his attack. That is why I am here. We have very little time to get you to safety," Yolinar explained.

"In order for Cassius to pull this off, he would need the support of the majority of the rest of his race. If that is true, there are very few places I could go and not be in danger," the Emperor said mostly to himself. "I would need to go someplace that the Lizards would not think to look for me."

"Majesty?" Yolinar asked, not liking what he was hearing.

The Emperor looked up at his supreme military commander. "Has your brother left for Terral III yet?"

"Not yet, Majesty. He will be leaving soon though; it took time to get the ships loaded and ready to go," Yolinar replied.

Hjoolous grinned evilly. "Good, tell him to wait for us. We're going with him."

"What?!?" Yolinar yelled.

Hjoolous busted out laughing. "I said we are going to visit these humans on Terral III, Admiral. We will see for ourselves the evidence they have of this plot, as well as for their claim of that planet. Make the call to your brother, and have him wait for us, or we'll follow along in the Imperial Cutter. I'd think that would be like waving a big flag telling Cassius I'm there. I'll get a couple of my guards, some clothes for the trip, and meet you at the Ranger Outpost."

"But, Majesty…" Yolinar tried one more time to talk some sense to the impulsive young leader.

"We don't have time to argue this, Admiral. Go!" Hjoolous said and pointed to the door.

Planetary Office of the Duke

Argassi Aerie and Polyponics facility

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

The Duke was not a happy camper. His plan was not going the way he wanted it too. He'd lost track of his pet 'pirates'. Granted, he'd always planned to kill them when he was done with them, but they must have figured out at least part of what he had planned because they were gone.

They hadn't left the planet; that much he was certain of. The Destroyers in orbit would have detected them and blown them out of the sky. No, his human dupes were not his main worry; it was the farking Rangers. They were up to something, he could feel it. When he had one of his ships chase them out of orbit, they detected a transmission from the ship to the planet. Who were they talking to?

Task Commander Warmake of Anti-Piracy command had reported that he had spoken to that cursed human Ranger Commander after they had departed, but the Duke had a feeling that was not the transmission that had been detected. So, who had they been talking to? He would have thought that by chasing that patrol unit out of orbit with a destroyer, it would have brought the rest of the Rangers here so he could destroy them, but it was beginning to look like that plan had not worked either.

So, now he had to figure out how to get the Rangers here in force, so he could destroy them. They were really the only remaining obstacle keeping him from launching his attack. Why hadn't they returned in force to investigate the destroyer in orbit of this world? His advisers were of the opinion that the Rangers had accepted the presence of the warship because of the pirate activity; that they had accepted the warship as part of the Duke's efforts to locate the pirates and remove them.

Total defecate.

There is no way the Hyclarion Rangers would allow a warship not under Hyclarion command this close to the Capitol. To them, it was too much of a threat to their precious Emperor.

His comm beeped at him.

He stabbed the accept button on his terminal. "What?"

"Highness, you have an urgent request for communication from Duke Hsspien," the tech replied.

What under the rings of the homeworld was that sycophant calling him for? "Put him through."

An image of another large lizard took shape on the monitor. "My Lord Duke, I hope you are well. I am calling with urgent news," Hsspien said by way of greeting.

"What could be so urgent that you would risk calling me directly?" Duke Tammerain asked.

"The Hyclarion fleets are beginning to withdraw, regardless of the requests we are making. We believe they have discovered our plans." Hsspien said. "The Dukes want you to launch now."

"I cannot, the Rangers have not yet been dealt with. I am working on this issue right now. Once they are out of the way, I will take Hyclarion and end this war once and for all time," Tammerain said.

"Well, you better hurry, or we will recall our ships and troops. Your plan was a good one as long as the Hyclarion fleets were not involved. However, if they make it back there before you attack, we are all doomed," Duke Hsspien replied.

"So destroy them! That is what you are supposed to be doing anyway! If it appears they have discovered our plan, then they must not be allowed to return to Hyclarion space. That was your part of the plan, so why are you not doing it?" Tammerain asked.

"The destruction of the Hyclarion fleets was supposed to take place at the same time as the attack on the Capitol world so as not to tip our hand remember? If we attack the Fleets now, Hyclarion will know something is going on. It was you that made this part of the plan My Lord Duke. That is the reason the other Dukes want you to begin the attack." The other lizard shook his head. "Your last report said you had ordered your dupes to kill the Ranger team so you could destroy the Rangers when they arrived. What has happened with that?"

"The humans failed to kill them before they left the planet. Nor did the Rangers discover anything about the 'pirates' or the raids they were staging all over the planet. They performed their investigation, determined it to be an internal matter and departed. I had a destroyer attack the ship in orbit in order to try to pull Rangers here, but they have not responded. I am working up another ruse to get them to return here, this time in force," Tammerain explained. "Tell the Dukes to go ahead and destroy the Hyclarion fleets, I will have my troops on Hyclarion by the end of the week."

The other Duke smiled. "Good, because if you don't, then we will have our troops on Terral III by the end of the weekend." The communication was cut before Tammerain could reply.

How dare that sniveling little grub threaten him! Once he had taken the throne, there were going to be some major changes made in the new Empire! Some of the Dukes were by far too bold in their dealings with him and took far too many liberties! Had they forgotten how he had come to hold his title? How he had killed thousands to rise up and claim this position? Perhaps they would need to be reminded of exactly who Duke Tammerain Ip Cassias was!

Terran Marine Base Alpha

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

Mother had to translate, since Councilor Janet Carlyle had not yet had the time to learn the language the Rangers spoke. While it seemed to irritate Janet slightly, it didn't really bother Commander Jance all that much.

"Aye, Ben if ye would, please remind me tah spend the night in yon learning pods? 'Tis the bane of my existence tah not be speaking the same tongue as our new friends," Janet asked.

"I’ll try to remember, Janet, but may I ask why it seems to irritate you so much?" Ben asked.

Instead of Janet answering him, Jance did. "Because of her training, Prime. She can get a better feel for a situation if she can understand what is being said directly, but almost as important as what is how it’s being said. I have had some training in this area; enough to know that there is a lot more to the job than simply reading reports and looking at holos."

As soon as the translation made it through to her, Janet nodded agreement. "That's it exactly, thank ye Commander. I need to be able to speak and read the words in order to glean their true meaning. How a person says something is as important as what it is they say."

Ben grinned. "Mother, could you please make an appointment with Jon for Councilor Carlyle to use a pod this evening? Also, please set a reminder for her for a half hour prior to that appointment?"

"Certainly, Prime Council. I would be happy to do that. Councilor Carlyle, is there a specific time you would like so I may work it out with the Doctor?" Mother asked.

"Ah, I had forgotten about ye, Mother. 'Twould be grand if ye could ask him to set it up for nineteen hundred. I know that is most likely after hours for him and I do apologize, but I ken I'll be a might busy most o' this day," Janet replied.

"I will explain it to him, Councilor. I'm sure it shouldn't be a problem once he understands the situation," Mother replied.

Janet looked a little concerned, and was about to say something when Ben stopped her. "Our pod doctor, Jon, is a bit technophobic. He and Mother did not have a very good first meeting, and he's a little gruff with her. However, he doesn't let it get in the way of his job. Personally, I think he is really very pleased to have her assistance, considering the knowledge she's been able to give him."

Janet nodded knowingly. "Aye, I think there is one of those in every pod we have. Seamus tells me that he enjoys dealing with our resident grumpy person. They have wonderful and glorious arguments over the smallest and most insignificant issues. They are pretty good friends." She turned to Jance. "Commander, it occurs to me that ye are putting a lot of faith in data that we have provided from yon AI. Not that the data is in anyway false, but I would ken you would require a more verifiable source."

Jance nodded once the translation was made. "Normally, we would. However, this is a very unique and potentially volatile situation. My computer specialist is in the process of certifying your AI so we may use her data when the time comes to present this to the Imperial courts. As for why we are trusting all of this; that's more gut instinct than anything else. All of my Rangers, and I should tell you that two of them don't trust easily, feel that everything we have learned here is the absolute truth to the best of your ability. You are actively working to assist us and have not hampered our investigations in anyway.

"There are not many civilian enclaves that would refuse to assist us in this manner, however, given your situation, assisting us puts your entire population at risk. That is something not many would be willing to do, even though you do have a motive behind providing your assistance. From the beginning, you have not tried to hide your intentions from us, nor have you done anything that has shown us that you are being duplicitous in anyway. You have earned our respect, and with it, our trust. That is not just my personal opinion either, but that of my entire team."

"Well," Ben said smiling. "Even if all of this ends up going to hell in a dropship, at least we'll know we tried to do it the right way."

Jance nodded agreement. "That you have, Prime Council. It is something all of us will make sure to note in our reports to our superiors. It is clear to all of us that there is no criminal intent evident in any of your actions. No matter what the laws say, intent is always considered, if possible," Jance replied.

The three had been sitting in the Command Center talking while the techs and Rangers continued to work to get the systems compatible with Ranger technology. Just as Jance finished speaking, her comm beeped at her. She raised her wrist cuff and accepted the call. A holographic image of Ranger Hyroan took form above her wrist.

"Commander, I have finished with the AI, but would like to request permission to remain down here. I can safely and without reservation certify her as a viable and trustworthy Artificial Intelligence unit. While worded slightly differently than other AI, her core instructions are very much in line with the guidelines set down by the Ministry of Information regarding AI. I would dare say she is even more restricted to the truth than our AI are," the Ranger finished.

"I thought you said you would need more time to finish certifying her?" Jance asked.

"I thought I would, but she offered to show me her core instruction set and how it affects her function. It took a couple of hours, but there is no part of this I do not understand. I am about to record my official findings on the matter, but wanted to report to you prior to doing so," Hyroan said, but seemed to hesitate. "One other matter, Commander. Because of the method of her construction and how she functions, she is far and away more powerful than any other AI I am aware of. The people that designed and built her were very much geniuses, even when compared to today’s standards. They developed a method of computing that is truly revolutionary, which is why I would like to stay down here for the time being."

"Is this something that can be considered proprietary technology? Hyroan?" Jance asked.

The man nodded. "Very much so, Commander. As an example, if one of these units were installed on a warship, combat effectiveness and survivability would be raised by an order of magnitude. She would not be able to fire the weapons against a living target, but she would be able to assist in so many other ways that it would make a modern warship almost invincible."

"That's a pretty impressive claim, Hyroan. I'll want a full report when you've finished. Until then, treat all information you have gathered as classified military information not to be shared with anyone, including the Empire. It should be left up to these people whether or not they chose to share it," Jance ordered.

Hyroan smiled. "As you order, Commander. I will record my official report certifying the AI now."

Jance winked at him. "Carry on, Ranger."

"So, Councilor Carlyle, have you had a chance to look over all the available information we have gathered on the current situation?" Jance asked.

Janet nodded. "I believe I have, Commander. I feel I should point out that I do not have accurate, up-to-date knowledge of the planned warfare, but now more than ever before I believe yon great lizard intends to sack Hyclarion. However, in my ken, he would need a great many more troops than are immediately evident.

"I admit, I have no knowledge as to how well or by what the Capitol is defended, but the simple fact that it is the Capitol would seem to mean it is greatly defended. Now, we know that yon great lizard has roughly a division of troops here. We have no idea how large the shelters they are in actually are, but considering the number of shelters being used for this purpose we have to assume at a minimum a division plus all of the equipment they would need to stage the assault.

"We have unconfirmed reports of multiple ships hidden in the system carrying what I've been told are the Lizard's shock troops. Considering the overall purpose of what the Duke is attempting, it is unlikely those troops are to be used on the planet Hyclarion in any large scale attack."

"Wait, how do you arrive at that conclusion? If he used what are called 'marines' on Hyclarion, he could easily take the planet," Ben asked.

"It is because of the nature of those troops, Prime Council. Think on this, if he were to use those troops on Hyclarion, he would not be able to make landing on the planet himself until those troops had been removed, or he would risk falling prey to them himself. Also, if he used them they would destroy much of what he is trying to capture," Janet explained. "No, those troops are meant for this world, not Hyclarion."

"What? Why would he do that to this planet? That makes no sense," Ben asked worried.

"Remember, Prime, he wanted to lure the Rangers here in force in order to remove them as a threat to his attack on Hyclarion. Once the Rangers landed, he and his troops would depart while the marine ships dropped their cargo and sterilized this planet and the Rangers trapped here," Janet explained.

"But what about all the people and the Aeries? He would lose a lot of money by doing that to this world," Ben offered.

If he is sitting on the Throne on Hyclarion, why would that matter to him in the slightest?" Janet asked. "He would simply order the planet rebuilt, bring in human slaves to do the work, and breed them for food production, thereby he would actually make more money in the long run."

Jance nodded slowly. "She is correct, Prime Council. A lizard would not think about the loss of life. Except for their own, they care little for the lives of others, especially the lives of other races. He could force humans to re-acclimate to this atmosphere and repopulate the planet with slaves for work and breeding."

Janet nodded once the translation finished. "One other thing; as I understand it, he would have to have the support of a good share of the other lizard Dukes. If I read the information on them correctly, I don't think the other Dukes would support Tammerain becoming the new Emperor. So, the plan has to be for the restoration of the lizard ruling bloodline; at least, that would be what Tammerain would have told the others."

"With the fleets away from Hyclarion on other errands, why would Tammerain need the support of the other Dukes?" Jance asked.

"Because, without it, the Hyclarion fleets would simply return to Hyclarion and retake the planet. No, those fleets cannot be allowed to return to Hyclarion. When the pirates did not kill you before you left the planet, it threw the Duke's plan and timeline off. Now, he will have to engineer a viable excuse to bring the Rangers here in force without tipping his hand about the invasion," Janet explained. "Of course, he could also simply launch the invasion before destroying the Rangers, but they might put up more of a fight than he is prepared to deal with."

"Well, there is a better than average chance the Rangers are already on their way here based on the report I sent along with the fact that the Dalphine was attacked in orbit. So he will probably get his wish if he just remains patient for a few more hours," Jance replied.

"Mother, could you please relay to the closest base to ready a probe to be sent to one of the shelters the troops are being housed at. They are not to scan or perform any active surveillance, just sit on the bottom and watch for those troops to begin to leave," Ben asked.

"Orders relayed, Prime," Mother answered. "Do you want them to launch the probe, or wait until ordered?"

"They can launch the probe, but they have to make absolutely certain it cannot be detected in any form and cannot be traced back to them," Ben replied.

"Understood, Prime, I'll make sure to tell them," Mother said.

"Is General Greenwold in the Base?" Ben asked.

"Affirmative, Prime. She is currently logged into a flight simulator on the training level," Mother replied.

Ben smiled and shook his head. "Could you ask her to join us as soon as she is able?"

"Message sent, Prime."

Ranger T'Gree and one of the techs approached the trio. “Pardon the interruption, but we have the communications suite built and ready to go on-line. Mother says she can add it to the planetary net without detection, but we wanted to get permission from you before we activated it.”

“I thought we already had access to the planetary comm net?” Ben asked.

“We do, Sir, but that is through the data net via a tap Mother was able to make wirelessly,” the tech replied. “This will be an actual comm node, capable of making off planet calls just like all other comm units, as well as giving us a direct connection to the Imperial DataNet. The DataNet is like the Internet was, only much, much bigger."

"We can do this without the addition being detected or reported?" Ben asked.

"Prime, there is an AI that controls the communications for this planet. When I expanded out to gather information on our world, I had to take it over. That is to say, I am not running it, but it works for me and not the Duke," Mother replied. "This matter was discussed and decided on by Minister Carmichael. She wrote a report of the action and sent it to you."

"I really need to review the priorities of my reports," Ben said shaking his head. "Okay, if you can do this without letting anyone on the surface know of our existence or location, go ahead."

The tech nodded. "Sir, it will also give us the ability to call Ranger Headquarters directly. Of course, such a call would have to be reported to the Duke as he would be able to detect it in other ways, but it does make it possible. It also means that we will hear any inbound messages as well."

"Just make sure it gets known to all your buddies that any ideas they have while learning all of this new stuff has to be shared with the Rangers as well as the original inventor of the technology, is that understood?" Ben said.

"Yes Sir, I'll make sure everyone knows. That is really the only fair way to handle it," the tech replied and moved off. The Ranger remained a moment.

"Commander, I also had the techs install power and data ports in our quarters here. We can now recharge our suits if we need as well as have access to data while in our quarters," T'Gree explained. "I didn't know how long we would be remaining here, so I took the initiative."

Jance nodded. "Good work. How close are you to having this finished?"

"We're mostly finished now. There are only a few minor tweaks to be done, but you can begin to use it whenever you wish," T'Gree replied. "I've already been using it to gather data and evidence to support my investigations. This should be a very easy case for the court to rule on."

Chapter Two

Terran Marine Base Alpha

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

Just as Ranger T'Gree was walking away, Gail entered wearing a flight suit. She saluted and Ben returned it before offering her a chair. As she sat down, she said. "You wanted to see me, Sir?"

Ben nodded. "Yeah, we have a problem. There is a very good chance this planet is going to be invaded by starving lizards in the next few days. Do you have any ideas about how we can protect it?"

"You’re talking about those lizard marines young Addson was so scared of, right?" Gail asked.

Ben nodded. "We believe the Duke is planning on luring the local Ranger garrison to the surface and then dropping his 'marines' on them. Is there anything we can do about it?"

"Prime Council, I may have some information on this subject," Mother said, surprising everyone.

"Please, any suggestions would help at this point, Mother," Ben replied.

"During The Fall, before the planet was evacuated, the Lizards were attacking on a very regular basis. My former commanders were aided in their efforts by the fact that being cold blooded, the Lizards could not fight effectively on most of the planet due to the dropping temperatures.

"However, there still existed climes warm enough for them to operate in, and this tactic was tried there. An entire battalion of our soldiers were wiped out in a few minutes. Our remaining soldiers retreated to protected and fortified bases and shelters to hold off the mob while our scientists worked on the problem. The solution was a remote controlled drone with a high powered omni-directional laser turret capable of sustained fire in multiple directions at once. Five of them were quickly assembled and sent out from the largest base.

"The targeting computers had been set to target only cold blooded targets in the event that the mob might have missed anyone. It took almost a week for the small drones to clear the area and two of them were destroyed in the process, but they killed every lizard they detected in very short order.

"The design was improved and expanded on as new technology became available. I currently have a dozen of the new drones available in my ground vehicle armory," she explained.

"Mother, could you please bring one up to the main hanger so we can take a look at it? In the meantime, please run diagnostics and self-tests on the remaining drones and get them ready for deployment," Gail asked.

"What destroyed the two prototypes?" Janet asked.

"Orders received and in process, General. Councilor Carlyle, one of the drones overheated and exploded. The resultant explosion had the force of a five kiloton device, but was non-nuclear as the power core was hydrogen based. The second drone was forced over a cliff and was destroyed when it hit the ground. Both of those incidents can no longer happen with the current version," Mother explained. "The drone now has improved heat dissipation capacity as well as having replaced the old tracked drive frame with an anti-gravity drive frame, which also gave the device the ability to cross bodies of water and soft ground."

"What are the weaknesses?" Jance asked.

"It has virtually no armor and only a weak shield capable of stopping physical attacks by personnel. The device could be easily defeated by an enemy carrying energy based weapons or by the use of land mines that the craft would pass over," Mother finished. "At the time, the power systems of the drones were not capable of allowing the addition of armor or stronger shields. Stronger power systems did exist, but were deemed not feasible for this application based on size and weight. The laser drone will arrive from the armory in three minutes."

Ben stood and helped the ladies to stand as well. "Let's go get a look at it; maybe we can use these to help the people up there, but if we do, we better be ready to come out from hiding, because people are going to want to know where these came from."

"I think I need to take another look at that inventory sheet Mother gave me," Gail said. "I don't remember seeing these."

"They were listed as 'Ground Combat Drone four-C', General. Perhaps I should have included an image of each of the items listed so if you did not understand the name, you could simply look at the image," Mother suggested.

"That would have be very helpful, Mother, thank you," Gail replied.

They arrived out in the main hanger just as several men came jogging around the corner ahead of a floating object that looked more like something out of an old science fiction movie than anything else. Looking like a flying disk, it was thicker in the middle, but on the top in the middle of the disk, was a shiny cylinder that stood up about two feet. As the group watched, the device floated over to the VIPs, lowered landing struts, and gently settled to the ground. The whole thing was about the size of a small car.

"Relax everyone! It's on our side!" Gail yelled to the men and women that had surrounded the device in defensive positions.

"Very good reactive deployment, General. Your troops are very well trained," Jance replied softly.

"Most of them are veterans of special operations teams before the fall. They've had a lot more training than a normal soldier would," Gail replied. "I am very proud of them though."

As the small group of VIP's approached the drone, Gail spoke to her troops. "Guys, this is a ground combat drone developed before the fall to deal with the Lizard mob forces that they had. We didn't know we even had these until a few minutes ago, and we wanted to see what they looked like. I'll give the team leaders a briefing later, but for now, let's get back to work."

The soldiers nodded to her and, talking among themselves about the drone, broke up and headed back to whatever tasks had been interrupted by the appearance of the drone.

"It's a lot smaller than I thought it would be," Ben said. "I mean, it's supposed to be a tank, right?"

"No. The term 'tank' implies a vehicle or person that can absorb a lot of damage while still maintaining functionality. This device can deal a massive amount of damage, but cannot absorb much damage at all. However, based on information I have been able to retrieve off of the DataNet, it is now possible to turn this vehicle into a 'tank' in the classic sense of the word," Mother explained.

"How so Mother?" Gail asked as she examined the machine closely.

"Advances in power generation, miniaturization, and physics, made by the Consortium will allow the upgrading of this unit. A modern power unit of the same size as the current one can supply sufficient power to support stronger anti-grav units and shield generators. Advances in the areas of anti-gravity as well as shield technologies have also improved output performance while reducing size. It is now possible to modify this unit with additional armor, more powerful shields, and drive systems, as well as upgrading the weapons and targeting systems," Mother explained. "There are several other systems that could be upgraded also. However, I need to inform you that by Consortium Law, royalties would have to be paid to the companies that 'own' this technology."

"We can't do that yet. We don't officially exist," Ben replied.

"I am not certain, Prime Council, but I believe a settlement could be reached after the fact based on the field test rule. Said technologies can be used on an experimental basis provided the designs and specifications of their use be shared with the original patent holders. Although this would be actual combat, the craft in question could be considered experimental based on these definitions," Mother replied.

Jance nodded. "That is true, however, because of this situation and the number of drones you would need to modify, the courts could easily rule that you skipped the trial phase and went straight into production. There is a legal gray area here because this is military technology. You would be using this technology to defend the Consortium, and the courts would also have to take that into consideration. If it were just a few units, I could authorize this use. However, since we are talking about potentially hundreds of drones, it would greatly exceed my authority to authorize."

Ben was thoughtful for a moment. "This is a life or death situation. The lives of all the people on the surface, as well as our lives, are at stake here. So, I'm going to fall back on an old adage from before the fall; it's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Pending Council approval; I'll authorize the upgrades of the drones in accordance with the Consortium Laws dealing with experimental military applications. Ranger Commander Halst, can you bear witness to this fact?"

Jance grinned at him and stood more erect. "One moment Prime," she called Ranger T'Gree out to the main hanger. "We should have not only a second witness, but also a non-human one. Just to be safe."

In only moments, Ranger T'Gree trotted out into the main hanger to his superior. She quickly explained the situation to the Ranger and Ben's proposed action. "The Prime Council would like us to bear witness to the fact that he intends to comply with the patent laws and special rules regarding experimental military applications."

T'Gree was thoughtful for a moment. "There is precedent for this, although not on this scale. Imperial Defense Technologies v. T'harness Research: Technology owned by IDT was used to enhance a new type of power armor. The armor itself was used to defend the research colony against a raid by a rival Corporation. After the raiders had been driven off, T'harness research sent the armor design as well as all the data gathered on it back to IDT.

"IDT in turn claimed that T'harness had no prior authorization rights to the technology in question and therefore should be fined, and the resultant patent for the new armor given to IDT in its entirety."

Ben shook his head. "No matter how far in the future we go, there is still greed in the Galaxy!"

Both rangers chuckled. "The courts ruled that since T'harness immediately shared the data gleaned from the use of the technology, it was evident that they had no intention of stealing that technology for their own use. The patent was awarded to T'harness with a ten percent royalty per unit awarded to IDT based on their 'contribution' to the design. So, yes, Prime Council, I will bear witness that this is your intention in this situation."

Ben nodded. "Thank you, Rangers. I better go see if I can convince the Council to agree with us, so we can get this project moving. If Janet is correct, we're going to need them as soon as the Rangers get here."

"I will begin replicating the parts needed to upgrade our current fleet of these units, Prime Council. However, I will be sure to inform the techs to not begin the modification work until the Council has ruled on it." Mother said.

"That would be perfect, Mother, thank you," Ben said. "Janet, I think you should join me; I might need your help to convince them."

"I doubt that, Ben, but as I am still a member of the Council, I should be there anyway," Janet replied and both excused themselves from the Rangers and headed for Ben's residence.

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

By the time Ben and Janet got to the Council Chamber, the rest of the Council had arrived. In fact, most of them had been monitoring the events taking place since the Rangers arrived. Ben got himself a cappuccino and a tea for Janet before they both went to the main podium in the center.

As Mother set their status to 'green', Ben noticed that all but two of the Councilors were already available. The last two were 'yellow', indicating they would be available shortly.

"Good morning, Brothers and Sisters, We'll wait for our missing members before making any decisions, but do any of you have any questions for either myself or Councilor Carlyle?"

"Councilor Cormier has a question," Mother intoned.

Ben nodded and smiled at the man. "Please proceed, Councilor."

Cormier smiled and bobbed his head at Ben. "Good Morning to you and Councilor Carlyle, Prime. Councilor Carlyle, how certain are you of the Dukes intentions to use those shock troops against this planet?"

"'Tis nothing written in stone when dealing with a situation of this kind. Aye, even more so when dealing with a being that is not human nor thinks like a human. So instead, I looked more at the results of potential action he could make and gave advice based on that. Based on the information given us by Miss Addson Dee, corroborated both by Captain Elrond as well as the Rangers now visiting us, the use of those troops pretty much destroys all other beings on the planet. Now, what use would Tammerain have for a world that could not resume function until he could bring in his own people to administer it? Nay, he, himself could not even land for at least a week after taking the planet or risk falling prey to his own weapon.

"Tammerain needs be on a functioning Hyclarion as quickly as possible in order to use the might of the Empire to control his own people as well as the rest of the Consortium. I believe Tammerain has secured the assistance of the other Dukes based on a fictional plan of restoring the Lizard royal line on Hyclarion. However, based on his actions to date, as well as his personality, he is planning to double-cross them and take the throne himself. Such a tactic is common in the Lizard culture and would be greatly admired if he can pull it off.

"That possibility must also be weighed against the very real possibility that the other Dukes are as aware of his plans as we are and have taken steps to ensure it fails. Either way, if the Lizards are allowed to make this assault, it would be a very bad thing for all humans in the Galaxy." She paused. "How certain am I? About eighty percent certain that he will destroy the entire planet. I'm a hundred percent certain he will use those troops here in some capacity."

While she had been speaking, the other two Councilors joined the meeting.

"Councilor Juno has a question," Mother intoned.

Ben nodded to the Councilor. "Good Morning Brothers and Sisters, I apologize for being late. Prime Council, although we are gaining much knowledge of the outside world through monitoring your interactions, will you be bringing the Ranger Commander here for us to interview as well?"

Ben was surprised. He hadn't believed the Council would even want to speak to her. "Honestly, I hadn't even considered that you would want to speak to her. Although we have not hidden anything from them, the Rangers do not have an accurate idea of how large a population we actually have beyond a vague 'a lot'. I thought you would want to keep yourselves isolated from them for the time being, so I have tried to limit her interactions to just our local pod group. However, if you would like to speak to her, I can easily ask her if she would be willing to meet with all of you."

"I think it is more our own curiosity driving us, Prime. She seems a very friendly and personable individual. Very approachable and open. I think it is simply we would like to get to know her and her organization better," Councilor Juno explained.

Ben nodded his understanding. "She is a nice person and I will admit I enjoy speaking to her. Would you like me to ask if she would be willing to meet with you here, in a non-official capacity, based on your curiosity? As she has done with me, she could give you a much better idea about what we are actually facing by declaring this planet our homeworld."

"Councilor Yinshi wishes to speak," Mother said.

Ben smiled at the diminutive man. "Yes Councilor?"

"I think her insights will be very good for us to hear. I only caught part of what she told you, and I do have questions about it. If nothing else, could you inquire on our behalf if she would be willing to come here and advise us?" Yinshi asked.

Councilor Yoshi, who worked very closely with Councilor Yinshi, nodded agreement.

Looking around, Ben saw the number of green lights and nodded. "I will speak to her on your behalf. Now, the question I needed the answer to was about the modification of our ground combat drones to update them to modern standards. Do any of you have questions on this issue?"

"Councilor Rustov would like to speak," Mother said.

"Yes Councilor?" Ben asked.

"Because of the pace these events are taking, I would make a motion that we allow the Prime Council a certain leeway in making this type of decision. We all are monitoring the actions thanks to the AI network. If he makes a decision we cannot live with, we can always call him directly and speak to him about it, or contact Vice Councilor Jorga to intercede on our behalf.

"As to the upgrading of the drones; we lack a large defensive force as well as the means of creating one. The use of drone craft is a very feasible and viable alternative to this and has the added benefit of saving the lives of our soldiers. The more drones we can field, the safer and more effective we will be in the upcoming war.

"Make no mistake on this, my brothers and sisters, there is a war coming. It might not be apparent to you that we have a stake in it, but we very much do. Our very existence, not only as we are now, but also as a race, may very well hang in the balance. We have little choice but to take an active role in our own defense. I understand and agree, with hesitation, to resort to violence, but I feel we are to be given little choice in this matter, and we must prepare for it. Thank you."

"Councilor Cormier would like to comment," Mother intoned.

"Your thoughts, Councilor?" Ben asked.

Cormier nodded. "While I do support a more peaceful method of resolving issues, I think Brother Rustov might be correct in this instance. I abhor the thought of war, but he is correct, we will be given little choice in the matter. If we do not act, we could very well see an end to our species. I am aware that there are other, better equipped militaries out there that are there for our protection, but it is becoming clear that they have been taken by surprise as well.

"Out of necessity, I would like to second the motions made by Councilor Rustov."

Ben nodded. "What say you, Brothers and Sisters? Let us vote on these motions separately. Do you wish to give me leeway in making decisions for this Council in matters dealing with our defense when contacting the Council for approval might not be viable?"

"Vote is ninety-one percent in favor, zero percent opposed, nine percent abstained," Mother replied.

"Motion carries," Ben said and tapped the gavel to make it official.

"Item logged," Mother replied.

"Thank you Councilors, I will do my best to not abuse this authority. Next, Councilor Rustov made a motion to not only proceed with the upgrades to the drones in question, but to proceed with research into the development of drone technology to augment our military for our defense. Before I call for a vote on this, I would like to ask Councilor Rustov to make one clarification; as I understand this, it was your intent for this to apply to defensive technologies only, am I correct? You did not wish to include offensive drones, although most of these can be used in either role?"

Councilor Rustov nodded his head. "Yes, Prime, I did mean for defensive purposes with the understanding that some of this technology could be used offensively, I did not intend for the development of purely offensive weapons. If that decision is to be decided, it should be a separate issue with more time given to debate."

Ben glanced over to Councilor Cormier and saw he was greatly relieved. "Does that set your mind at easy, Councilor Cormier?"

"Very much so. Merci for that clarification," Cormier replied.

"Prime Councilor, Vice Councilor Jorga Bedouin is requesting entry; she has Commander Halst with her," Mother informed him. "There has been a development."

"Please grant them entry, Mother," Ben replied. "Brothers and Sisters, it looks like you are going to get your wish sooner than expected. Mother has just informed me that Vice Council Bedouin and Commander Halst have requested entry. It seems there has been a new development."

The lift doors opened letting Jorga and Jance into the chamber. Half way to the podium, Jorga stopped and bowed to Ben. "Please forgive the interruption, Councilors. We bring urgent news we felt you would need to know of immediately."

Ben returned her bow. "Approach, Vice Councilor, and share your information. Brothers and Sisters, it is my honor to introduce to you, Ranger Commander Jance Halst of the Hyclarion Ranger Outpost."

Seeing all the active monitors surrounding the podium, Jance bowed to Ben. "It is my honor to make your acquaintance."

Ben smiled at her, "The Council had asked me to relay a request for you to come here anyway. They would like to learn more about the path we've chosen."

Jance nodded. "I would be happy to share what knowledge I can, Prime Council. However, I have just received word from my ship. Moments ago, almost a hundred Ranger vessels arrived in orbit of this planet. It would seem the Rangers have arrived. I have also been told that we are to have a very special guest."

"Considering the nature of the situation here, and who this being is, I granted them clearance to land in the main hanger of the base," Jorga replied.

"I'm sure that will be fine, Jorga, but if I may ask, who is this guest? Considering what is likely to happen here very soon, this might not be the safest place in the galaxy," Ben asked.

Jance sighed. "In that, all of my commanders agree with you, Prime. Unfortunately, the person in question believes that this will be as safe a place as any, and he would like to speak with you about your claim to this planet. No one could talk him out of it, and it isn't very healthy for one's career to argue with the Emperor."

"Wha…" Ben cleared his throat, "I'm sorry, did you just say the Emperor is coming here? As in the Hyclarion supreme leader?"

Jance nodded. "I did. In fact, he'll be here in about fifteen minutes."

"Fuck!" Ben said, forgetting where he was at the moment. He blushed when the rest of the Council laughed at his outburst. "I apologize for that vulgar outburst. If you would all excuse me, I should probably go change clothes. I don't think meeting the Emperor in my daily work clothes would make a very good first impression."

"Prime Council, I make a motion to recess immediately so you may prepare to meet the Emperor," Councilor Yinshi spoke very rapidly. "All in favor?" all the lights immediately snapped to green.

"Motion carries!" Ben said as he took off running for the lift. Jorga, Janet and Jance followed him.

"Item logged," Mother said drolly. "On behalf of the Prime Council, we bid you a good morning, Councilors."

"And to you, Mother. Watch over him for us, please," Councilor Rustov replied grinning.

"I will, Councilor," Mother replied and deactivated the channels in the Chamber.

"Mother, please search the DataNet for acceptable modern formal wear suitable for this occasion for us. Also see if you can find any images of formal dress uniforms for the Rangers and get them replicated for them. If she hasn't already done it, ask Gail to assemble an honor guard and get herself and them dressed and assembled in the main hanger in ten minutes," Ben said.

"General Greenwold has already made the arrangements, Prime. Commander, although they will not be made of the same materiel, suitable uniforms will be ready for you and your team in their quarters as soon as they arrive. I took the liberty of replicating your uniform here so you will have time to change. Councilors, your clothes are also being prepared as we speak, but the replicator pad needs to be cleared of the first delivery," Mother said.

When the lift opened, Ben rushed to the replicator in the kitchen and handed Jance her uniform. The next item to appear was for Jorga, and he handed it to her as well. After handing Janet her new outfit, Ben grabbed his own and followed the women to the bedrooms to change.

Eight minutes later, they were on their way to the base to welcome the leader of the Empire to Earth. Ben was nervous, but had control of it. "Jance, can you tell me what you know of the Emperor? What kind of being is he?"

"His Majesty Hjoolous is very young by Hyclarion standards. As such, he will be about the same height as you. However, mature adult members of his race are much taller. They are physically strong beings, but usually gentle by nature. Hjoolous is known for impulsiveness, but will listen to reason in most cases. Based on his past history, he is a fair minded ruler, not taken to the greed or insanity that his father suffered from." Jance replied as she fidgeted and readjusted her uniform.

"What is the correct form of address we should use?" Jorga asked.

"Your Majesty, or Lord Emperor are the most common, although I am told in private he prefers to forgo titles since he finds them to be redundant, but that is more rumor than truth," Jance replied. "I've never actually met him either. I've seen him on vids and the like, but I've never seen him in person, even from a distance. He is not very popular with the court since he is more concerned about the people than the corporations his father encouraged. Hjoolous feels that should be more of an Empire than a Consortium and that belief is not very popular."

"I don't imagine it is, especially from the big corporations and business concerns. However, without the people, the Corporations would have no customers," Ben replied.

"Yeah, well, the largest mega-corporation in the Empire belongs to the Emperor, although it is controlled and run by his family. They are none too pleased with some of his decrees, either, according to the news agencies." She shrugged as they arrived at the base. "I'm just a peace officer, I know even less about business than I do about the Emperor himself."

Chapter Three

Terran Marine Base Alpha

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

When Ben and his group arrived at the base, it was a scene of ordered chaos. The hanger had been completely cleared of all craft, and soldiers were running around all over the place on differing errands. Over by the door to the Command Center hallway, Ben saw Gail standing with a group of about fifteen men dressed in smart looking formal uniforms. He headed in that direction.

When he got closer, the whole group came to attention but Gail was the only one to salute. Ben returned the salute. "Looking good, Gail. How are the preparations going?"

"Pretty good actually. We should be ready by the time he gets here. Commander Halst, Ranger Hyroan simply didn't have time to get back up here and get changed. He is returning and will change and join you as soon as he is able. The rest of your team should be here any minute," Gail replied.

"Thank you General, this event has taken all of us by surprise." Jance replied. "We didn't even have formal uniforms for this until your Prime had them made for us."

"Well, we all do what we can for our fellow citizens," Gail replied smiling. "Sir," she said turning back to Ben. "Mother was able to get a layout of the craft being sent down, we worked up a formation that should be at least presentable." Gail explained and brought up a holograph of the hanger and showed him where everyone should stand after the craft landed. During landing, the Hanger would have to be clear of all but the landing personnel. Once the powerful engines were shut down, the honor guard, Ben, and his party would quickly move into position to welcome the Emperor.

Finally, she brought up an image of the Emperor taken from the DataNet. "Ben, I thought you might like to know what the Hyclarion’s actually look like. Other than a sash denoting rank or station, they usually don't wear clothes. His Majesty will not require a respirator for our atmosphere." The being she displayed was very human-like in appearance, however, he was covered in fur. Like the mythical Sasquatch from before The Fall, they were large, muscular beings. Gail also put an image of Ben beside that of the Emperor and a fully mature Hyclarion for comparison. Just as Jance had told him, the Emperor was about the same height as Ben, however, the other image was over a foot taller and very powerfully built.

"No jokes about the Emperor having no clothes; got it. Anything else?" Ben asked. ”No, the rest is pretty much as you'd expect. Just be respectful. As far as I can tell, most Hyclarion are pretty forgiving in the protocol department. As long as it's clear you’re trying to be respectful and polite, you can't go wrong."

"Excellent, thanks. Mother?" Ben asked. "Could you please find out the dietary requirements of the Hyclarion in general, and the Emperor in particular? We will also have to find suitable quarters for him and his retinue."

"I have already gotten the Hyclarion dietary requirements Prime, however, providing quarters suitable for the Emperor is proving a challenge. The closest area we have is the Command Pod Atrium level."

Ben was thoughtful for a moment. "Can you use that area and still permit access to the transit area?"

"I would have to have my remotes build temporary walls over the entrances, but I could modify the area. It would still be smaller than what he is used to, but I think it would suffice," Mother replied.

"Please begin recording, Mother," Ben asked.


"Citizens, I am temporarily closing off the Command Pod Atrium. Until further notice, please use the park levels in our sister pods. I'm sorry about the inconvenience folks, but we have a visiting VIP and our Atrium is the closest thing we have that we can use as suitable quarters. We will all still have access to the transit areas and, other than the temporary loss of the Atrium, you should not be impacted in any other way. Thank you," Ben finished and smiled. "End recording. Please play that for our people and begin modifying the atrium level as needed."

"Thank you Prime Council. I'm sure His Majesty will appreciate the gesture," Jance replied.

"I just hope it's large enough for the Hyclarion that are coming. One park I can take over without too much grumbling, but if I had to take over another, I think someone would have issues," Ben said, sighing.

"Prime Council, the ship carrying the Emperor has landed in the water and is on the way down. It will arrive in four minutes," Mother said.

Ben nodded. "Gail, you heard the lady, let's clear the hanger."

Gail nodded and began giving orders to her people. As she did, she motioned everyone to enter the hallway hatch they were standing near. As soon as the hatch closed behind them, Jance's communicator chirped at her.

"Halst here," she replied.

"Commander, we're showing an increased interest in your area by the Duke's on-planet forces. Currently, the planetary traffic authority reports an asteroid strike in your area. Several armed skippers are being sent to the area to investigate," a voice told her.

Ben shook his head. "Before the fall, we did get several meteor strikes a day; most of them so small no one even knew they had hit the planet. However, ones large enough to be seen always got people's attention, but even they usually burned up in the atmosphere. I'd be suspicious of this report; why would traffic control take an interest in something so trivial?"

Jance nodded. "Did you get that, Sir?"

"Indeed I did, Commander. Intelligence agrees with him. If you need assistance, let us know, but keep in mind that such a move would focus the Duke's attention on you," the voice replied.

"Understood, Commissioner. The man that spoke earlier is the leader of these people, Ben Bedouin. His title is Prime Council," Jance replied.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Prime Council. You sound like you would have made a very good Ranger yourself. I look forward to the day we can meet in person." As the man spoke, Jance told Ben he was the Commissioner of the local Ranger Outpost, which was on Hyclarion.

"I am honored by the compliment, Commissioner Holdst. I look forward to the day we can meet as well," Ben replied.

"Commander, I will end this before the Duke can locate the stations. I will contact you again as soon as we can," Holdst replied and ended the call.

Ben turned and faced one of the camera pick-ups in the hallway. "Brothers and Sisters, I propose we instruct Mother and her fellow AI to infiltrate and assume control of the planet's computer networks. Before you make this decision, I feel I should warn you that this, while being intended as a defensive action, is actually offensive in nature.

"This is currently a sovereign planet under the control of the Duke of Cassius. I will speak to the Emperor before I give the actual order, but by doing so, it will greatly improve the chances the Rangers have of not only finding resolution to this issue, but surviving what the Duke has planned for them. By definition this is electronic warfare and in previous doctrine was a very common first strike against an opponent.

"By taking control of the planet data nets, we will have up-to-date information on the Duke's actions and most orders he issues, at least until he realizes he has lost control of it. In all honesty, I do not even know if our AI are even capable of this action. However, while we find out and I speak to the Emperor about it, I would like you to consider giving approval. Thank you, and may wisdom guide your thoughts."

"Prime Council, to answer your question, we do have this ability and capacity. While we were designed for the purpose of assisting you, this was a primary task of ours during the war and one we are very familiar with," Mother replied.

"Thank you, Mother. I suppose I should have asked before addressing the Council but I'm worried about the Rangers in orbit and the people on the surface. If we can delay or hamper the Duke's efforts in this in any way, we might just be able to save some lives," Ben replied.

"If no one else does, I thank you for the effort, Prime," Jance said. "Since Mother has been verified, there should not be much of a problem, at least from that stand point."

Through the hatch, they could hear the roar of the engines of the craft that was landing. Ben smiled. "Well ladies, should we go say ‘Hi’ to the ruler of the galaxy?"

The ship the Emperor chose to come down in was Jance's vessel; the Dalphine. It did fit in the hanger, but just barely. It was a testimony to the skill of the pilot landing that ship in the hanger with only inches to spare for clearance. He did it without so much as scratching the paint.

Ben was amazed at the precision and execution of Gail's troops. Even though they had little time together for training, even though some of them had been former enemies before the fall, they worked and moved together like they had been doing it from birth. Ben was impressed and made a note to Mother to remind him to speak to the team as well as to place commendations in their files for their performance here today.

When Hjoolous exited the ship, as one, the entire honor guard dropped to one knee and bowed their heads. Gail, standing at their head, knelt as well, but did not bow her head so she could issue a salute, open palm over the heart, in Hyclarion fashion.

Ben also knelt to one knee, but did not bow his head. On each side of him, and one step back, both Councilor Carlyle and Commander Halst knelt and bowed their heads.

Hjoolous walked up to Ben and bowed from the waist in an almost oriental style. "Please, Prime Council, rise. You are not a part of our empire yet, so such supplication is not required."

Ben nodded his head. "Forgive me for disagreeing with you, Majesty. Even though we may not be officially part of the Empire we consider ourselves to be part of it. As such, we felt we needed to show you respect in some form, however inadequate. This is how we chose to show it. I am Benjamin Anthony Bedouin, I represent the remaining members of the human race from the war with the Sal'andori and the Lizarrus. I serve as the Prime Councilor for our 'Council of Elders'." He turned to Janet Carlyle. "This is Councilor Janet Carlyle. In addition to serving on the Council, she is also my intelligence adviser." He waited until the two greeted each other before turning to Jance Halst. "This is Commander Jance Halst of your own Hyclarion Ranger Outpost. We invited her here for multiple reasons, but primarily because we could not ignore the threat that we saw to the Empire." Again he waited while the two greeted each other. "On behalf of my people, welcome to Terra, Majesty."

"I am Hjoolous, leader of the Hyclarion Imperial Consortium, and serve as Emperor. On behalf of the Empire, I greet you in kind. Thank you, Prime Council Bedouin. Although it is only rumor, I believe I might have had an ancestor that crash landed here long ago. At least, that is the theory now. She disappeared in this sector before the Lizarrus War." He then turned and introduced the beings that had accompanied him. The first was First Admiral Yolinar; the senior military commander of the Empire, second only to the Emperor in the military. The second person was a female, Glandril, who served as a representative of the Consortium Senate.

"An ugly business, war. I've been told of the plot you discovered. May I ask how certain of it you are? I only ask because if it's true there will never be peace between the Lizarrus and the Empire again," Hjoolous asked as Ben led the small group back towards the exit.

Ben frowned in thought. "Nothing in this is an absolute certainty, Majesty. However, it seems that every hour that passes we learn something new that supports it. Your quarters are not yet ready, Majesty. If we could temporarily use one of the briefing rooms here, we can present our evidence to you while they are completed."

"That would be just fine, Prime Council. I must admit that both Yolinar and I are very anxious to learn what you know. While we are here, we will also work out your status in the Empire. Now that humans have a home world, it will change things rather radically in the Empire," Hjoolous replied.

"Majesty, are we certain of that claim? We have yet to see proof of this," Glandril asked.

Hjoolous snorted and gestured to the huge hanger. "Look around you, Senator. Do you see where we are? Ask yourself one thing; if this were simply a ploy, how could these people have built this under the eyes of a human-hating lizard that would rather have them for lunch? I know you did not get much time to review the information we have on the way here, but the simple fact that we are here can have no other explanation.

"I will grant that they could have simply discovered this bunker as a left-over from the previous occupants of this world, but if that were the case, why is everything written in the ancient human tongue? Why are all the facilities here built to accommodate humans? If you were to analyze one of these walls I have little doubt you would find that it is exactly the age these people claim it to be. No, we have long suspected this was the human world, but Tammerain would never let us prove it."

Ben bowed to the Senator. "If it would help, we did rescue a prospector from the surface. She can provide testimony as to her discoveries here from before the time we rescued her if you wish?"

Ben noticed that Gail had introduced herself to the Royal Guard captain and they were talking quietly, no doubt working out security arrangements for the Emperor while he was here.

Ben guided the Emperor and his party into the same ready room that he had taken Jance and her team into. "Again Majesty, please forgive the rather primitive facilities here. We never knew we would be honored by a personal visit from you."

Hjoolous waved it off. "Not an issue, Prime Council. We completely understand. We put you on the spot on rather short notice. Besides, we see nothing wrong with any of this; in fact, it is all very functional. This was designed as a military base originally was it not?"

"Yes, Majesty. Before what we termed 'The Fall', which is the war that made the planet’s surface hostile to life, this was the primary planetary military installation. This base is quite large and has many levels to it. However, if any of you find that you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask one of us and we will do what we can to provide it for you," Ben said. After the group took seats in the briefing area, Ben quietly asked Jance if Ranger Hyroan had made it back up here yet.

"Yes, he made it, but not before the ship began landing," she replied.

Ben smiled. "Thank you, could you ask him if he would please come to the briefing room? I'm about to introduce Mother, and I would like to reassure our guests as to her validity."

Jance grinned. "Good plan. Just so you know, the senate will not support this becoming your home world; they would feel it would be too much power and wealth being given to humans too quickly."

"I'll keep that in mind, thanks," Ben said nodding.

"Before I begin, I would like to introduce one more very important entity to you. She is very important to us at least. Our AI, Mother. She is responsible for gathering much of the data you will be seeing, as well as assisting the Rangers and our own people in the dissemination of it. Mother, please greet our guests," Ben said.

"It is a very great honor to be of service, Imperial Majesty and honored guests. I will be happy to answer any of your questions to the best of my ability," Mother intoned.

"You have your own AI?" Hjoolous said. "Impressive, I did not think humans had progressed that far when we discovered your people. There were no reports of AI on the ships."

"With respect, Majesty. I was designed and built during the war. At the time it was not possible to install one of my kind on any of the ships. I take up a considerable amount of room, and it was decided that space for refugees was more important. At the time, the commanders had also not heard from any of the refugees that had departed, so they had no idea what they would encounter. They did not want AI technology to fall into enemy hands," Mother replied. "That being said, the ships did have a limited form of AI in order to function properly. Imperial Majesty, Prime Council, Hyclarion Ranger Hyroan is requesting entry; the Prime Councilor asked for him to attend."

Hjoolous nodded. "Please let him in, AI Mother."

Hyroan took one step into the room and dropped to his knee and saluted the Emperor. "Majesty, as requested, I have come."

"Please rise, Ranger Hyroan. I believe the Prime Council asked for you," Hjoolous replied.

Ben nodded. "Indeed, I did. Ranger Hyroan, I asked you here to verify, in person, your findings about our AI."

"I understand, Prime Council." Hyroan replied, but it was clear he was very nervous.

"Imperial Majesty, as my duty to you and the Empire, one of my skills is that of Master level Computer Engineering. In that capacity, Commander Halst asked me to validate the AI so we would know data from this source could be trusted and relied upon.

"While she is of a vastly different design, I do understand how she functions and can safely verify and validate her function as well as the data she provides. As with any and all AI, she can withhold information, but cannot knowingly lie or falsify information. I would like to add, that while she is a more primitive design, Mother is far more powerful than our modern AI in that she can process more data, faster than most modern AI. She is a very interesting machine," he finished.

Hjoolous nodded. "Thank you for your testimony, Ranger Hyroan. You have done very well, would you care to join us in the event we have further questions for you?" he indicated the seats around him.

Again, Hyroan bowed. "As you command Majesty." He moved to a seat behind the Emperor and his party. Admiral Yolinar smiled and nodded to the man.

"Now, with your permission, Majesty, I will have Mother give you and your party a full briefing," Ben asked. While Hyroan had been testifying, Janet took care of the refreshments for their guests. Ben thought to himself that she needed a raise.

"Please proceed, Prime Council," Hjoolous said.

With that, Mother dimmed the lights and activated the large holographic projector. Ben took a seat near the Emperor so he could answer any questions and just be available to him.

Terran Marine Base Alpha

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

The briefing took a couple of hours and included some details that Ben had not been aware of. Mother explained that some of the data had been from the Rangers and had not been available to Ben and his people as it was an ongoing Ranger investigation. It painted the Duke in a very bad light, but Mother made sure to point out that the ultimate purpose for the troops and the 'Marines' being stationed in the system was still unknown and could be in error, the belief was that it was for an attack on the planet with the sole purpose of destroying the Rangers.

One of the items shocked Ben; it was the discovery by a Ranger patrol ship of a fleet of lizard super-destroyer class ships in hiding in the Vega Nebula. Captain Elrond had been correct in his assumption.

Once Mother had finished, and before the Emperor could say anything, Commander Halst stepped before the ruler and knelt. "Majesty, although seemingly unrelated, there is a group of humans sequestered here that the Duke was using to commit crimes on this planet in order to justify the buildup of troops. We have discovered proof of this from their ship's computer systems.

"Some of the information we needed in our investigations came from these people. Although lives have been lost, I do not believe it was the intent of these people as they took what steps they could in order to prevent it and still follow the Duke's orders. My team and I have examined all parts of the case against them. It is our belief they were never willing participants in these crimes. We ask that you pardon them as they may yet be helpful in the current situation. They know this planet better than any of us."

"How many people are we talking about here, Commander?" Hjoolous asked.

"Majesty, forty-three individuals were directly involved in the crimes and voluntarily surrendered to us when we arrived here. They did have their families with them, which made it difficult to believe coercion was a factor. However, we have seen that it was indeed the case. The Duke withheld their families as hostage against their behavior until it was too late for them to run. The entire sad story is available for your review, Majesty. However, we wanted you to know that, while it’’s not our place to render judgment, we do believe that they were used by the Duke to further his coup attempt and would not have performed these acts on their own," Halst replied.

"The intentional destruction of an Aerie can hardly be seen as unintentional, Commander," Glandril said.

Jance nodded to the Senator. "Madam Senator, records from the Aerie prior to its destruction indicate the power core was not installed correctly. One of the men sent on that mission was a master technician with experience in Aerie power systems. While I will admit that argument could be used for both sides, since he would know how to set the reactor to explode, we felt it unlikely he would do so while he was still standing beside it. The Aerie was ordered to evacuate, which was ignored. The 'pirates' set charges to scare and rock the Aerie in order to get the occupants to evacuate. Once that was accomplished the plan had been to shut down the reactor, then use conventional explosives to destroy the Aerie. Captain Elrond believes that the reactor detonated during the shutdown procedure. He tells me he lost fourteen very close friends in that debacle.

"Every event told to us by the pirates, and there were far more than we had been aware of, has been independently corroborated except for the destruction of the Aerie. However, the very fact that these people not only confessed to more crimes than we knew of, and never lied or tried to hide evidence, leads us to believe they are telling the truth as far as they know it in regards to the Aerie."

Hjoolous held up a hand to stop the forming debate. "AI Mother, it is a little known fact that most humans give off indications when they are being dishonest or misleading. Have you been present during the interviews with the accused?"

"I have, Majesty," Mother replied. "Most of those interviewed were nervous or scared and that will affect the results of which you speak. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have lied to this point."

Hjoolous nodded. "Thank you, Mother. I would review the evidence before making a decision on this. Normally, I would refuse and let the courts handle this, and I still might. However, if I agree with the Rangers after reviewing the information, then I will intercede on their behalf. Thank you, Ranger Commander," he said, dismissing her.

Jance bowed and retook her seat. Hjoolous turned to Ben. "Prime Council, the evidence against the Duke is very compelling. That he has broken many laws is clear to us. Although I tend to agree that he is planning my death as well as taking control of the Empire, I'm afraid that the Senate will need more proof."

"With respect Majesty, not even the Senate could argue the truth of the evidence presented here today," Glandril injected. "However, we would debate the humans claiming this world as their own."

"You're still hung up on that?" Hjoolous asked turning to her. "What more proof would you need?"

"Please pardon the interruption, Majesty, Madam Senator. Would you like to hear the survivor's history? I have managed to piece together what I believe is a very accurate timeline based on the records here as well as what could be found on the DataNet and from the files in the salvaged skipper of Citizen Addson Dee," Mother offered. "Ranger T'Gree has also been investigating our claim to this planet. Perhaps you could speak to him as well."

"That would be very helpful, AI Mother," Hjoolous said, but looked to Glandril to see if she agreed. "I would hear the history. After all, the AI has been certified."

Ben stopped them before Mother could begin. "One moment if you would, Majesty. I have an idea to speak to you about, to assist the Rangers and hopefully slow the Duke."

"Oh? That would be most helpful, Prime Council," Admiral Yolinar said, speaking for the first time.

"I have asked my Council for permission to have mother and her fellow AI take over the computer systems on the planet. In this way, we would know what the Duke is doing and also be in position to intercede if needed. The Admiral would be welcome to monitor the situation from our main control room. That would give him access to not only the communications suite, but also to all the data of the planet." Ben suggested. "He could also oversee the deployment of our defenses if the need arises. General Greenwold can brief you on what little defenses we do have."

"This is more your area, Admiral," Hjoolous said, turning to look at his commander. "What do you think?"

"I would like to have at least one fleet here, as well as more troops, but if there is anything these remarkable people can do to assist us, I do not see any reason not to take advantage of it, Majesty," the Admiral replied.

Hjoolous nodded. "Then I will agree. Please go with General Greenwold and do what needs to be done to protect our Empire."

Ben looked at Gail. "Do your best, Gail, we're all counting on you. If you need me for anything, let me know right away."

"Prime Council, with the agreement of the Emperor, the Council has also agreed to allow a cyber-attack on this planet. I have been asked to tell you that they understand what that means and have given permission for our forces to take their lead from Admiral Yolinar," Mother replied.

Ben nodded. "That makes it official, then. Good luck Admiral, General."

Both Yolinar and Gail bowed to the Emperor before they left the room. As they left, Ben heard Gail assuring the very tall Yolinar that the ceiling in the control room was much higher.

"We could very well be restarting the war this day. That is not a prospect I enjoy contemplating," Hjoolous said, thoughtfully.

"No Majesty, in that we can very much agree. Considering our position, spatially, it is something we really don't want to happen. But, we can't move the planet," Ben said. "Before you make your final decision as to our status, Majesty, there is also some classified information you will need to be made aware of. When it is appropriate, Commander Halst, Rangers T'Gree and Sc'ellese, as well as Admiral Yolinar, General Greenwold and myself will need to brief you."

Hjoolous looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "You pretty much know what my decision about you is already, Prime Council. Is this really that important?"

"In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, yes Majesty, it is important. We feel you need to be fully aware of our technology and advancements before you make an official decision. We would like to try to avoid any misunderstandings that might arise in the future," Ben explained.

"What advancements could you have made thousands of years ago that would have any bearing on modern society?" Glandril asked. "Perhaps this will also support my assertion that you cannot be from this world."

Ben knew the being was only trying to bait him and smiled back. "Not at all, Senator. Many of the advances I am speaking of were made as, or based on, an innovation created during the war here. I would speak of them here, but even in this time, such technology is still classified. After we discuss these issues, if His Majesty wishes the information shared with you, I will arrange a briefing for you. Until then, we must keep the secrets entrusted to us."

Hjoolous nodded agreement. "Well put. Glandril, stop trying to bait the Prime into an argument. We have bigger problems right now," he turned back to Ben. "My apologies, Prime Council. I had to bring a representative of the Senate and since she has been chosen to be my official mate, it stood to reason to bring her along."

"I understand Majesty. Just so we can adjust if we need to, does she also share your quarters?" Ben asked.

"No, not yet. We will not be officially mated until I reach full maturity. Besides, she will not be the only one to share my bed; in our society it is common for males of higher rank to mate with multiple females. It ensures an heir will be created and the offspring are not ranked by the standing of their dame but rather by birth order.

"I'm certain you could care less about our breeding habits! Mother, please share the history files with us!" Hjoolous said energetically.

Chapter Four

Terran Marine Base Alpha

Command and Control

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

As Gail led the large being to the Command Center, she told him of what they suspected regarding the Hyclarion fleets. "Admiral, we believe that your fleets sent into lizard space are in considerable danger. In order for this plan to work, the Imperial fleets cannot be allowed to return to Hyclarion."

"That was our thought as well, General. We have information that says the lizards have been building warships on the far side of their space for the last few decades. We have been unable to confirm the information, but with the discovery of the fleet near Hyclarion, I tend to believe it. Lizard Dukes are a paranoid bunch. They would not have given Tammerain so many ships unless they were certain they could still defend themselves. Which means, many more lizard warships exist than what was sent to Hyclarion. We could be in for some trouble."

Gail nodded. "I've been told it is entirely possible that Tammerain is also betraying the rest of the Dukes."

Yolinar stopped and looked at her. "How so?"

"Well, in order to get the size of force he would need to take Hyclarion, as well as getting the other Dukes to leave him alone long enough to do it, he had to strike a deal with them. They would give him ships and troops to take Hyclarion and overthrow the Emperor in exchange for restoring the original Lizard royal line.

"We feel he will take Hyclarion and declare himself Emperor before any of the other Dukes could get into position to stop him. We can't prove any of it, but we do believe it," Gail replied. "Which means he has another fleet of ships stashed somewhere else to defend Hyclarion once he takes it."

Yolinar nodded thoughtfully as they began walking again. "That would make a lot of sense. Tammerain is a crafty snake, I am actually surprised the rest of the Lizards would have entrusted him with something like this."

"Maybe they don't," Gail said. "They have to know that Tammerain is going to pull something like this. My question is, what do they have in place to keep him in line?" She shook her head. "It's a very confusing mess."

Yolinar chuckled. "War is always a confusing mess, my young friend. It is our job to bring sanity out of chaos. I only wish I could have brought my staff along. Conducting a war under these circumstances handicaps us."

Gail nodded. "We did what we could to make certain we could at least monitor the planet. With Mother invading the rest of the systems on the planet, we should have more options available." She paused. "Mother, if His Majesty and the Prime Council do not need her, could you ask if Councilor Carlyle could join us in the Command Center?"

"General, Councilor Carlyle has already sent three of her analysts to assist you. They should arrive shortly after you do," Mother replied.

"Ah, I forgot she brought friends with her. Thank you, Mother. Can you give me a status on the drone modifications?" Gail asked.

"Planet wide, we are at fifty-two percent complete. I am told they should all be complete by the end of this day," Mother said. "I would mention that by taking control of the planet's computer systems, it will make controlling the drones much easier.

"However, I feel I need to remind you that neither I nor any of my fellow AI can fire the weapons they carry. Because of this, I have tasked many of our troops with 'piloting' the vehicles. I have even asked the Council for volunteers from the populations to assist. Those people are in training at the moment and should be ready by the time the drones are finished. The control consoles are very intuitive."

"That was a good idea, Mother. Thank you," Gail replied.

"It was not actually an idea, General. I saw that there was a need to be filled and took steps to fulfill that need according to standing protocol. That being said, you're welcome," Mother replied.

"She is a very intuitive AI," Yolinar replied. "It is hard to believe she is as old as she is. Her designers must have been far ahead of their time."

Gail nodded. "Yes, in a way I am sad they didn't get included in our population, but if they had been, Mother would never have been completed to help the people that remained. I sometimes wonder if we hadn't taken so many of the planet's scientists and researchers, how well our people would have fared in that war."

"There is no way to know. All we can do is deal with the present to the best of our ability and knowledge. The past is there to give us knowledge and to provide a strong foundation upon which to plant our feet and deal with what is before us," Yolinar said as they arrived at the Command Center.

"Attention on Deck!" the guard yelled as the two entered.

Yolinar smiled. "Please continue," He turned to Gail. "Does everyone here speak Standard?"

"The Command Center staff and guards do. I have ordered all military forces to learn it, but some have yet to get it done. You should have no trouble either getting information or giving orders," Gail replied. She then turned to the room in general. "Listen up everyone! This is Hyclarion Admiral Yolinar. He is the Commander In Chief of all Hyclarion forces. Please follow his orders as you would mine. Understood?"

"Yes Ma'am!" the crew replied as one

"Currently, Mother is in the process of taking control of the planet's data systems. Once she completes that task, you will have a lot more information available to you. Please make sure you will be ready to handle it." She nodded, "Back to work, folks." She turned to the guards at the door. "There are three civilians on their way here at the request of Councilor Carlyle. Please let them in once they arrive and direct them to us down at the table."

In the center of the room, three techs were still installing a black topped table, but on each of the walls, huge monitors displayed information from different places on the planet and one clearly from a feed in orbit.

Both men nodded and Gail led the Admiral down to the sunken center of the big room. She knelt and touched a tech on her sleeve. "I'm sorry for the interruption, but can you tell me how much longer you will be?"

"Not long, Ma'am. Damn thing should be up now, but we had a glitch in the new control system; probably five more minutes maximum, but we'll stick around for a while in case it messes up again," the tech replied.

"Understood. You guys have done great work here. This is a lot of new stuff in a very short time," Gail replied.

"Actually Ma'am," the tech replied as she kept working. "It's not so much new equipment, but a new way of handling and formatting the data. Some of the equipment is new, but that was a redesign of something we already had; like this holo-table."

"Well! There goes our reputation as miracle workers!" another tech joked. "There, that should do it from my side. How ya doing Charlie?"

The tech that Gail had originally spoke to replied. "Just about got it, Bill. Why don't you start on the laser alignment while I finish this?"

"Will do, watch your eyes!" the male tech said and crawled out from under the table. "Mother, please initialize the table and bring up alignment grid four."

Yolinar and Gail waited while the techs finished up their work and put the access covers back in place. While they were finishing up, the people Janet sent arrived and joined them at the table.

"Admiral, General, I'm Selena Thoms. This is George Arens and Jesus Veracruz. Janet Carlyle sent us," the woman that arrived first said, introducing her companions.

"Gail Greenwold, This is First Admiral Yolinar of the Hyclarion Imperial Command. Please treat him as you would me. It’s nice to meet you, and thanks for coming. However, you might wish you hadn't. We have a mess to deal with, and we're going to need you three to analyze the incoming data as quickly as you can so we can decide how to deal with it. Treat this as if we are at war, because we are." She gestured around her. "Feel free to use any empty terminal if you need to step away from the table here." While she was talking, she saw an older gentlemen approach them and recognized him. She waved her hand at him. "This is Commander Talbert, Operations Officer. He'll be joining us." Gail quickly introduced the new officer to everyone.

When everyone knew everyone else, Gail and Yolinar took positions at opposite ends of the big table. "Mother, before we get into the big picture, what is the status of the surface investigation of the Dalphine's landing?"

"Since nothing was found that indicated anything more than a meteor, the skippers were recalled. It is currently believed the meteor burned up at low altitude or simply fell into the ocean. No further investigation is underway," Mother replied. "There are no surface or subsurface contacts within three hundred miles."

"Thank you, how are you doing in your attack?" Gail asked.

"One final system remains; the secure military network. It has intrusion detection and defenses. We are currently working around them and should have control in twenty minutes," Mother replied. "While this is the primary target for this attack, all other systems are secured and you can now communicate off-planet without fear of detection."

"Excellent. I'm certain the Admiral would like to open a channel to his own command as soon as possible," Gail replied.

Yolinar nodded. "Indeed. Mother can you please access the MilNet Comm network. I will input my codes manually."

"Accessing now, secure input mode enabled, Admiral," Mother replied.

"While he's doing that, we'll also need a channel opened to the Ranger fleet in orbit," Gail ordered.

"Admiral, it is good to hear from you. Our ships in Lizarrus space have come under attack," another Hyclarion said from one of the big monitors.

Yolinar shook his head and gave Gail a half-smile. "You were right on the money with your predictions, General." He quickly introduced those around him to his staff and both teams quickly got to work.

Terran Marine Base Alpha

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

When Mother finished her recitation of the history pieced together from the survivors records and those taken from the DataNet and Addson's skipper. Ranger T'Gree presented his findings on Ben's claim to the planet.

"I'm sorry, Senator, but there is no doubt at all as to the veracity of this claim. This planet is undoubtedly the origin of the human race," Ranger T'Gree finished. "Further, there is evidence that indicates that, at the very least, Duke Tammerain has known that fact all along. Quite possibly, all of the lizards know."

"Which adds the charge of species suppression to the list for the Duke," Hjoolous replied. "Thank you, Ranger T'Gree. You have been very thorough, and your efforts are greatly appreciated."

T'Gree bowed. "Thank you Majesty." He rose and took a seat near his Commander.

"Senator, do you still dispute the claim?" Hjoolous asked.

Glandril shook her head. "I cannot, Majesty. However, the Senate will be very concerned about such a valuable and important planet being given over to the humans. I mean no offense by this, Prime Council. The simple fact is that it is well known that humans have no experience in galactic commerce. The Empire needs the ohto this planet produces, naturally we would be concerned if that supply is threatened."

"Senator, before the Aeries where installed here, how did the rest of the empire breathe? For that matter, our atmosphere is not even the optimal one for most of the races of the Empire. So how did Terra become so important to the production and mining of ohto, when there are better atmospheres available in abundance on other worlds?" Ben asked.

"Because of the diversity of races in the Empire, it is necessary for the atmo-processors on ships to use ohto in varying levels for the comfort of the crews. Without the ability to vary the ohto levels, it would not be possible for a mixed race crew to serve together on the same ship," she explained.

Ben nodded. "A viable reason. Let me ask you one other question then, this base is almost a mile under an ocean, and several hundred miles from the nearest land. How do you suppose we get our air?"

"I have no idea, Prime Council. I would imagine you are extracting it from the water or perhaps importing it from another location," the Senator replied.

"I can tell you that we are not importing it from another location, but your first assumption was partially correct. In fact, a good portion of what we use down here is taken from the sea, although not in the way you would imagine. This is one of the secrets we must keep, but the original point I was trying to make is that the Empire doesn't need ohto from this planet, it wants it because your equipment is designed to use it.

"Regardless, we would continue to run the processors and fulfill the ohto contracts. No disruption should come from our claiming of this planet. While not in the Imperial economy, we do have several people that are qualified to handle the business aspects for us. Since I am told we do have patentable technology here, we might be considering forming our own company to handle those ideas and any new innovations that might crop up,

"The Council and I are far more concerned with how many humans there are in the Empire, and what we should do if they were to all come home at once," Ben finished. "I'm mostly worried about the people that are under the claw of the lizard Dukes. We have heard there might be places where the Dukes are raising humans for food."

"We have heard the same, but as yet we have not officially found any. That is to say that we did find two such places, but, in order to keep the peace, the humans were rescued and the Dukes were only fined for disobeying. That will not happen again. I have already given orders that if another 'farm' is discovered, the Duke is to be arrested immediately and brought to Hyclarion for trial. An influx of people coming here is a valid concern. This planet would be quickly overwhelmed by the influx of people returning to this world. When this goes public, we will have to take steps to control the rate at which they return," Hjoolous said.

"Majesty, much of this could easily be dependent on the classified information I mentioned earlier. An idea has been put forth that could attack the issue from both sides, so to speak. The idea would create millions of jobs, which would provide for a great many returning people." Ben looked thoughtful for a moment. "Neither my Council nor myself want it to be strictly humans either. We really do want to join the Empire; and racial diversity would be beneficial. But I'm afraid with so many humans coming here, it would seem we would be discriminating."

"That you are worried about it does you credit, Prime, but you shouldn't worry about it. Everyone will know you are trying to re-establish your home world. We very much doubt that anyone would take offense under those circumstances," Hjoolous said. Behind him, Glandril nodded agreement.

"Prime Council, the drones and workers have completed His Majesty's quarters and those of his party. Minister Deirdre Bedouin contacted His Majesty's Guard Captain to incorporate what security arrangements are needed. You may show them when you are ready," Mother replied. "I apologize for the delay, the main security computer system gave us more trouble than anticipated."

"Thank you, Mother," Ben replied.

Hjoolous nodded. "It has been a long day and one that is not yet ended, I think. We would see these quarters to freshen ourself before speaking to you about the classified information you mentioned. Perhaps then we may retire to contemplate the day."

"If you have luggage or personal effects on the ship, I can have them moved to your quarters, Majesty," Mother suggested.

"Our departure was somewhat rushed, however we did bring a few items we may need. Please contact Ranger Hojoh and he will direct you to the items we will want," Hjoolous replied.

"If you would follow me, Majesty, I will show you to the quarters we have prepared for you," Ben said.

Command Pod Alpha One

26 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

There were a great many more people, soldiers, and civilians alike in the base when Ben led the Emperor out to the transport tube. Since they all looked like they had purpose and were busy, Ben didn't immediately ask what was going on, but he was curious. When they got in the transport car, Ben told the group where they were going.

"Majesty, the quarters we prepared for you are in the same residence pod I live in. If you remember from the history Mother related to you, our pods were buried deeply underground. This base was built somewhat close to the surface, so a transport system tunnel was dug to connect our pod network to the base. Our pod group is the closest to this base, but it is much deeper," he finished.

"We find it amazing that so many people could survive for so many thousands of years buried deeply underground here. It is truly an event of epic proportions," Hjoolous said. "I am certain many will simply not believe it, however, we will make certain the event is logged into the histories of the Empire making it official."

"We appreciate that, Majesty. Perhaps after some preparations, we could welcome those that would like to come and see for themselves. Although we do plan on keeping and to continue using the pods, I am certain that a good share of our people will wish to return to the surface. Living underground has its advantages, but we were meant to live in the sunshine," Ben replied.

"As are most of our brothers in the Empire," Hjoolous said nodding. There are two races that are subterranean by nature, though. I am certain they would be most impressed with the extent and ingenuity of what has been done here though." He paused. "This transit system really spans the entire planet?"

Ben nodded. "Yes Majesty. A flat out transit to the other side of the world would take about eight local hours. Of course in practice, it does take longer, since the tubes are in use by the other residents as well."

Hjoolous shook his head. "Amazing, we do have similar transport systems in the Empire, but none of them are as vast as this one."

"I have been told that some of our engineers are already working on plans to extend the system to the surface cities and installations. They wish to connect all the Aeries and major population centers on the planet. It will be a major undertaking, since the network would have to be almost tripled in size and complexity in order to handle the increased load," Ben replied. He chuckled, "One very bright young man is even working a way of extending it up to a space station in orbit. He claims it would lessen the cost, as well as the transit time, while increasing the total amount of both passengers and cargo that could be handled."

Ranger T'Gree shook his head. "I don't think he'll be able to do it, Prime. There is a very strong rotational sheer when dealing with orbital mechanics. A rigid structure like that would be shattered even before it could be built."

"As I understand it, Ranger, these tubes are not rigid. They flex and can move to adjust to shifting conditions underground like earthquakes and magma displacements in the deeper areas. Don't get me wrong, they can still be damaged, but not as easily as a rigid structure. I'm not an engineer though, so I don't know very much more than that," Ben replied. "I believe the original designer is living in one of the west coast pods. You can contact her for the details of the system if you wish."

"If time permits, I will do that. Thank you Prime Council," T'Gree replied.

The small group talked about nothing important until the car arrived at the Command Pod. This time, Ben led the group only a short distance before coming to a doorway protected by two of the Imperial Guard. Ben noticed that they were both very tall, but luckily the ceilings in this area were much higher than the norm to allow for the trees in the atrium to grow to maturity.

The Guards opened the doors, and Ben led the Emperor and his party inside.

"Majesty, I apologize for the small size and poor accommodations. However, this is the best we could come up with for you," Ben replied.

Hjoolous was looking around himself in awe. It was an entire forest underground! "Prime Council, there is no need for apology! This place is simply wonderful! How did you get a forest to grow this far from the sun? Dhana has to have blessed this place in order for the plants to be so healthy."

"Part of the design of our pods was for an atrium like this one where people could come and be around nature. It was designed to help us keep our sanity while we lived down here. Every pod has one of these, but since this is the smallest pod, we also have the smallest forest. Currently, the lighting is reproducing the exact spectra our sun had before The Fall, as these plants and the few small animals in here are all from that time." He paused. "Mother, would you please explain to His Majesty what you've had done in here, as well as the floor plan and amenities?"

"Certainly, Prime," Mother replied and projected a hologram for them, (which was also new since the Atrium did not have holographic projectors before this.) She explained everything that had been done and adjusted to accommodate the Imperial party and the amenities installed to provide for their comfort.

"This is far more than we expected, this effort is greatly appreciated. We will be very comfortable here," Hjoolous replied. "Prime Council, once we have refreshed ourselves, where would you like to continue our discussions?"

"Currently, there are only two places I feel are secure enough for this; my office and the main Council Chamber. I do have a small conference table set up in my office, so why don't we speak there. I can easily get any information we might need," Ben replied. "I'll leave a guide here for you when you're ready."

While Ben and Janet returned to his office, Jance and the Rangers returned to their own quarters to eat and prepare for the upcoming meeting. Jance told Ben that she would make sure the Rangers he had asked for earlier would be there in an hour.

While the Emperor was busy 'refreshing' himself, Ben took the opportunity to return to his office and have dinner. It was already pretty late in the day, but he had missed both the afternoon and evening meals. Deirdre and Jorga joined him, even though they had both already eaten.

When Ben told them about the upcoming meeting, Jorga dropped a bombshell on him. "I don't know if I'll be able to attend the meeting. Since I'm 'enhanced', the Imperial Guard won't let me near the Emperor."

"What? That's idiotic, why not?" Ben asked.

Jorga shook her head. "Actually, it's not. Think about this from their point of view. I'm an unlicensed and unregistered enhanced human. They have no idea what was done to me, beyond what we tell them. To let me get close to the Emperor would be an unwarranted security risk for them." She shrugged. "I might not like it, but I can understand it."

"Part of the upcoming discussion will be the nanocytes your mother has developed. I would like you to be a part of that meeting not only in your capacity as my vice councilor, but as an example of the work. I'll speak to the Captain of His Majesty's Guard and see if something can't be done. After all, we'll have three Rangers to help protect the Emperor as well," Ben said.

"What's he like, Ben?" Deirdre asked.

"He's not really what I expected. He's nice, listens to what people have to say, and makes decisions based on that knowledge. I'll admit I don't know him all that well, but I think I could consider him a friend. Of course, as Emperor, that isn't really possible, but I'm certainly going to try anyway." He shrugged. "I like him. He's a pretty down-to-earth person that hasn't let his position go to his head."

"When I took dinner over to the Command Center, I met Admiral Yolinar," Deirdre replied. "Damn he's one big guy! But he struck me as very gentle and personable."

"What are you doing taking dinner over there? You're a minister now, you should delegate stuff like that!" Ben teased.

She stuck her tongue out at him. "I wanted to do it. I think it's a good thing I did too, from the way the food got attacked, I don't think any of them have eaten all day."

"What did you take for the Admiral?" Jorga asked. "I didn't think they had the same dietary requirements we do."

"They don't. They're mostly vegetarian, but will eat some white meat like chicken or fish. Addson's medical AI said that they can eat red meats too, but it tends to make them too violent and aggressive so they removed it from their diet unless going into combat. Hyclarion soldier's rations are very different than what the civilians eat," Deirdre replied. "I did ask the Admiral if he would need something like that, but he declined and said that it was a more physical response than intellectual or emotional, so only the troops get it. He was really good about it, and readily explained it to me."

"By the way Sis, the Emperor loved the quarters. Even the Senator seemed impressed with them," Ben said. "Mother did an excellent job in the redesign, but she said that you had a hand in it as well."

"I did a little, but Mother did most of it herself. She deserves the credit for it," Deirdre said.

The trio talked while Ben ate and prepared for the upcoming meeting with the Emperor. He did speak to the Emperor's Guard Captain, who reluctantly agreed that three Rangers and eight Marine guards should be enough protection for the Emperor if Jorga were to be allowed to attend the meeting. However, the very imposing being did insist that she stay on the other side of the room from the Emperor.

The number of guards assigned surprised Ben, and he was concerned his office wouldn't be large enough for the meeting. However, Jorga did a little careful planning and made sure that all the people Ben had wanted to introduce would not be in the office at the same time. She set up a schedule for them to enter and provide testimony before being excused to make room for the next item on the agenda. Once she explained it to everyone, no one took offense, the Guard was greatly relieved and the problem was solved.

She also relocated the venue of the meeting to the Grand Council Chamber. She invited the Captain of the Guard to inspect and tour the entire route as well as their apartment and the chamber itself so he could plan out his security measures. When the Captain expressed concern over the fact that there was only one entry and exit, Jorga took him aside and showed him the emergency escape route from the chamber. She made certain to tell him that he was one of four beings that knew of this secret route and asked that he keep it to himself.

Relieved, the large being nodded his understanding and thanked her, not only for the trust, but for taking the time to address his concerns. So, while Ben, Deirdre and Jorga hosted the Imperial party in the Council Chamber, Kaitlin and Marcy hosted the Imperial Guard in their apartment. Since Marcy would be called upon to testify, they also enlisted the help of Jon's twin daughters who were awed by the very large beings, but managed to be courteous and friendly.

The Imperial guard was very appreciative of their hostesses and tried to respect the fact that this was the private apartment of the Prime Council. Other than having an apartment full of large hairy beings, the event went rather well for Kaitlin and the girls.

Chapter Five

Grand Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

26 - 27 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

"Prime Council, we understand you decided to move our meeting here instead of your office due to the number of people to be seen. This chamber is odd to us, could you explain its function?" the Emperor asked.

"Certainly, Majesty. This is called the Grand Council Chamber. This is where we hold the meetings of our Council as it has a special dedicated communications suite capable of linking each and every pod on the planet. The system allows for not only real time communication but data manipulation as well. From here I address the rest of the councilors to discuss issues and debate problems that require the attention of the council. It is also possible for me to address the people directly from here. From the controlling console, I have access to every type of information I might need so the Council can make as informed a decision possible," Ben finished indicating his normal seat in the great chamber. He smiled. "It's also the best seat in the room, so I thought I'd let you sit there today."

The Emperor laughed. "I appreciate that Prime Council. I assume then, that this facility is also secure?"

Ben nodded. "Actually, this is the most secure place we have, Majesty. All communications are very closely monitored and any unknown or unaccounted for signals are immediately blocked and isolated."

Hjoolous nodded. "Very nice. I might need to get the design from you and build one for myself. Now, I know it is getting very late for you and your people. I would have understood if you would have wanted to delay this discussion, but we got the impression this was rather urgent."

Ben nodded. "It is Majesty. We feel it is very important that we tell you everything about us and our technology so you can make a better decision about our status in the Empire. However, some of the information is very sensitive. Acting on the advice of Ranger Commander Halst, we asked for this meeting to discuss these items."

Hjoolous looked a little concerned for a moment, but nodded. "We understand, Prime Council. Please, proceed."

Ben bowed a little. "Majesty, the first item I would address is the question raised by Senator Glandril about Ohto. We have a device that is not available in the Empire, called a replicator. What this device does is create virtually any item or commodity literally out of thin air. How it does what it does is beyond my technical ability, however, such a device has the ability to completely destroy the economy of the Empire. It is these devices that are currently keeping my people alive. There is one available in this chamber if you would like a demonstration."

"Please! That sounds amazing!" Hjoolous replied, excited.

Ben nodded and asked the replicator for a cup of his favorite cappuccino as well as a plate of mozzarella sticks. He approached one of the Guards, but spoke so everyone could hear him. "These are two food items both of our species can safely ingest. However, I would only take a sip of the beverage until we know how the caffeine will affect you."

After getting approval from the guard Captain, the guard removed his helmet and sampled the items. He asked for another cheese stick and dipped it into the sauce that accompanied the dish. "Very good tasting, it reminds me of Coola cheese, but has more flavor."

"They are replicas of a dairy product from old Earth. They are called Mozzarella Sticks. They are a cheese, breaded and deep fried in vegetable oil," Ben explained.

The large being then picked up the cup of coffee, but before he could drink, Ben once again cautioned him. "Remember, this beverage may have an effect on you. It contains a chemical called caffeine that is a stimulant. That's why I only recommend a sip."

The guard nodded his understanding and took the sip. His eyes lit up. "Very pleasing, very rich, wonderful taste." He paused and nodded. "I understand your warning Prime Council. I feel slightly lightheaded, but energetic as well."

Ben nodded. "It should pass shortly as you didn't ingest very much. However, for those of us that have a tolerance to it, it serves to keep us going when we get tired or our energy is flagging. There are many variants of this beverage, and not all of them are sweet like this one. Some are bitter, but still have a pleasing taste."

When there was no adverse reaction to the guard, the Emperor sampled both as well and loved the taste of both. "We can see that these are two commodities that will be very popular in the Empire!"

Ben smiled sadly. "I'm sorry Majesty, but neither one will be able to be produced for at least a year, possibly longer, depending on the conditions on the surface."

"I don't understand, then how did we just enjoy them?" Hjoolous asked.

"No raw materials were used in the creation of either of those products; only energy," Ben explained. "Majesty, this is the danger of this device. There was no labor cost, no raw materials used, no shipping to get the product here, nothing. The price of those items was only the energy needed to power the unit. For all intents, they cost nothing to create, but no one got paid to make them, either."

Hjoolous sat quietly thinking about what he had just been shown. "Prime Council, you are a very wise man, and it is very fortunate that you are a friend to our Empire. You have in your possession the only weapon that could completely and utterly destroy the Empire without a shot ever being fired. This device has to be the most dangerous invention since the antimatter warhead. If we may ask, what are your intentions for its use?"

"Currently, we need to continue their use, as these devices are what is supplying all our food as well as our clothing and even the air we are breathing. However, once we emerge from our current existence, their use would have to be greatly regulated or prohibited completely. There is simply no way I can think of that would allow their wide spread use that would not have a detrimental effect on the economy. However, they could be of great assistance on military vessels or as am emergency back-up system. As I understand it, the device is capable of being limited in scope to only the production of specified items; such as ohto," Ben replied. "My Council has decided to keep this technology classified for the time being until some sort of agreement can be reached with you about their use. Every one of our people knows of the device and what it does, but only a select few know how it does it."

Hjoolous nodded. "I understand and appreciate the discretion you have shown, Prime. Please continue keeping the secret until we can discuss this issue in more depth. We will leave it to you to regulate it as you have outlined, since, as you said, you still need it."

"Thank you, Majesty." Ben replied and checked his tablet for the next item. The next issue we need to discuss is military in nature. For this I would call upon Ranger Sc'ellese and Doctor Hope Lowe of Pod 0001c, and Vice Council Jorga Bedouin of the Command Pod." He turned and looked to the elevator. In a moment, the three women entered and bowed to the Emperor. Ben addressed them.

"Ranger Sc'ellese, I've asked you here to inform His Majesty of your findings regarding Vice Councilor Bedouin; are you willing to do so?"

"Of course, Prime Council," she replied and smiled at him.

"Majesty, Ranger Sc'ellese of the Dalphine," Ben said, formally introducing her and stepping aside so she could address her ruler.

She lowered to one knee before she spoke. "Majesty, before I begin, Majesty, I feel I need to state that I have not yet earned my medical credentials; I have completed the educational aspects and I will begin my residency when we return to Hyclarion.

"Shortly after our arrival here, I met a most interesting young human woman. She came to my attention because my medical enhancements reported that she was, herself, enhanced. As she was not a Ranger, nor was she a member of our military, I immediately brought it to the attention of my Commander.

"Upon investigation, it was discovered that the Vice Council was given an experimental medical treatment for a disease that, at the time of treatment, had a fatal outcome. I discovered that she was in fact terminal when the treatment was administered. The use of enhancement procedures for this purpose is common practice in the Empire at present, however, in those cases, the patient does not remain enhanced once the condition is corrected. That is not the case with Vice Council Bedouin.

"Due to the sensitive nature of this technology, as well as the current situation of these people, I continued my investigation into the use of this treatment. I have discovered that this treatment was administered almost one local year prior to the events that forced these people into hibernation. Chronologically, this predates the discovery of this technology and subsequent implementation by the Empire by almost fifteen hundred years.

"I have since also discovered that, because of the potential of this technology, the humans have classified it. I would also mention that it is not currently in wide spread use as a medical treatment, as further research is still being completed. I have spoken to the person that has worked to develop this technology and have learned that her version has far more potential than even our own." She indicated Hope. "This is Doctor Hope Lowe, the woman most directly responsible for the development of their version of enhancement. Beside her is her daughter, Vice Council Jorga Bedouin, who is the young woman that is medically enhanced."

"By your description, Ranger Sc'ellese, the only enhancement she has had done to her has been medical?" Hjoolous asked.

"With one exception, Majesty; the controller used for enhancements is able to interface directly with any and all computer equipment currently in use by these people. She has been restricted in that interface, but the restriction is artificially imposed," Sc'ellese answered. "She has no other enhancements installed. The current version of biocyte in use is not capable of any form of combat enhancement."

"We do not understand what you mean by their version having more potential than the one currently in use. Could you elaborate on this?" Hjoolous asked.

"The explanation would involve two separate, highly classified issues, Majesty. By the oath I swore, I cannot speak of them without your direct order to do so," Sc'ellese replied and blushed in shame.

"I understand, Ranger. Without speaking of them, can you indicate which issues are involved?" Hjoolous asked.

"One issue deals with 'the mother of all races' and the other issue deals with our base enhancements, Majesty," Sc'elleses replied.

"I see," Hjoolous replied.

"Prime Council, because of the military nature of the enhancement process, all information regarding it is restricted to military medical personnel. The reasoning being the fewer that know of the secret the better. For that reason we hope you can understand why we would not have that issue discussed. Although, our current discussion would fall under the same restriction, it is one that needed to be addressed.

"As for the issue the Ranger referred to as the Mother of all Races that is more social in nature. You see, of all the diverse peoples and races of the Empire, only one appears to be almost infinitely adaptable. They can, given time and care, adjust their physiology to almost any environment. All other races share some of their traits, but none of them share them all. The enhancement of such an already adaptable race, especially as that race has a propensity for violence, is closely regulated. So closely regulated that we are required to personally authorize each individual.

"It is feared that if that race were to be given the freedom of unrestricted enhancement, they would turn on us. We personally do not believe they would, but the possibility does exist, given how that race has been treated in the past. It is one of the greatest fears of the Empire and a nightmare for the Lizards. An army of enhanced humans would be next to unstoppable, even by the Lizard's drop troops," Hjoolous said, looking at Ben.

"However, if the humans had their own world, and their own leader, we do not believe they would turn on the Empire, but embrace us as brothers." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I should say 'I' not 'We' as this really is only my personal belief and not that of the Empire."

It was Ben's turn to be thoughtful as he considered what the Emperor had told him. "I think I might have to disagree with you, Majesty." He held up a hand to forestall an outburst. "I agree with you in principle, but it would depend greatly on the leader as well as on the people being led. Our history is full of examples of what can happen given the proper motivation by a charismatic leader; of how one man can corrupt and influence the hearts and minds of so many.

"I cannot speak for the people, the humans of the Empire, but I do know that the action of a leader should be the will of those he is responsible for. That makes the key to this as having the people believing in what is being defended. If the people agree and believe in their government and leadership, they will do whatever it takes to support that leader.

"I'm told that most humans in the Empire support and believe in it. To be honest, that was a major deciding factor in our own decision to support you. We know that if the Empire was evil, or bad, the humans living there would not support you. Clearly, that is not the case." Ben smiled. "I don't know what the future holds for us, Majesty. But one thing I can say is that, at this point, it would take something pretty major for the Empire to lose that support."

"We are indeed fortunate to have met you and your people, Prime Council." Hjoolous turned back to the still kneeling Sc'ellese. "Thank you for your testimony, Ranger Sc'ellese. As with your entire team, you have done an excellent job here. Doctor Lowe, we have some questions, may we speak of them to you?"

Hope knelt where Sc'ellese had been before speaking. "Of course, Majesty."

"May we know why the technology has been restricted to medical use?" the Emperor asked.

Hope shrugged. "That's the only purpose they were intended for, Majesty. I understand that there are far more uses for them, but I have not yet explored those. I will admit that I am reluctant to; I am uncomfortable with designing something that could be considered a weapon."

"Why does that make you uncomfortable?" Hjoolous asked.

"Before the fall, I took an oath to protect life and help the injured. I may have an engineering degree, but I am first and foremost a medical doctor. I don't know how it's done in the Empire, but I believe there is a strong moral and ethical duty that must be maintained for the protection and care of our patients." She hesitated. "That may sound hypocritical coming from me, but it really is how I feel about it."

When the translation of her words was finished, the Emperor looked confused. "I don't see how it would be considered hypocritical; you said yourself that the enhancement procedure you developed was designed for medical purposes."

Jorga stepped forward and knelt beside her mother. "Majesty, I am Jorga Bedouin, among other things, I am Ben's mate, and Doctor Lowe's daughter. If I may explain, I believe you will understand her statement."

Hjoolous nodded. "Please do."

Jorga quickly but accurately explained what had happened to her leading up to Hope treating her with the experimental treatment. She stressed that Jorga was the one to make the decision, not Hope. It was clear that Jorga felt her mother had not made a mistake at all.

Hjoolous nodded. "I understand now. Vice Council Bedouin, are you a medical doctor or do you possess any training in a medical field?"

Jorga looked a little confused. "No Majesty, I have no special training in that area."

"Then I'm afraid your mother is correct when she says she is responsible for your treatment. Simply put, legally, you lacked the required knowledge to approve the treatment while it was still considered experimental. That does not mean your mother was incorrect in the use of that treatment, only that she was the responsible party.

"We're not sure how it worked back then on your planet, but in today’s world, medical practitioners have the ability to offer radical or experimental treatments to terminally ill patients within certain guidelines. From your description of your situation, your mother not only acted correctly, but fully upheld the spirit, if not the wording, of her oath. There are times when the two are not the same.

"Doctor Lowe, you acted in the finest traditions of your profession. You acted to preserve a life deemed lost by your peers. That gamble does not always have a happy ending, but at least the attempt was made. Even if the Vice Council had not been saved, you would have still done the right thing. For what it's worth, we find that you are clear of any guilt in this matter."

Hope bowed her head as a tear crept out of one eye. "Thank you, Majesty that does help."

"Now, back to the business at hand. What are your future plans for the process you have developed?" Hjoolous asked.

"For now Majesty, we are focusing on finalizing the medical version. Beyond that, we have no further plans other than continued research to possibly improve on that single version," Hope replied. "We will be investigating muscle and bone tissue enhancement but we had planned that to be only for medical purposes and not for use in the enhancement of soldiers. I would also mention, that, while not my area, it would seem that before the exodus, extensive research was put into the genetic enhancement of soldiers to improve performance against the stronger and faster lizard soldiers. That research was not completed before the exodus, but the data and notes of the researchers remain in our data base."

Hjoolous looked thoughtful. "The Empire does not support that type of research. Bio-mechanical enhancement is one thing, but altering the very fabric of a being is… distasteful. We can well understand the reasoning for them to begin such research, the lizards are very formidable enemies, but thankfully, there have been other ways found to counter them.

"If it was asked of your Prime Council, would you object to your research being developed for military application by another scientist?"

"It would bother me, Majesty, but I would not object. If there is a need for it to be used in that fashion, then it should be used. By developing something that can protect all of us, it would save lives in the long run," Hope replied.

"Thank you Doctor Lowe and Vice Council. You have given us much to think about," Hjoolous said, dismissing them.

Ben stepped forward. "Currently, the data regarding the biocytes developed by Doctor Lowe is also considered classified and restricted, Majesty."

Hjoolous again nodded his understanding. "We can't and won't ask you to abandon this research. Your possession of it predates our own by several hundred years. The fact that it is designed for humans and not an adaptation will simply have to be accepted. We only ask that you do not begin the wholesale enhancement of soldiers without consulting us first."

Ben nodded. "Agreed, Majesty. That had been our intention all along."

Hjoolous smiled at Ben. "Prime Council, we do not know if you are finished amazing us, I feel there is something that must be done. Forgive me, but it is getting late for you and your people. If there is more for you to tell us, I'm certain it can wait until tomorrow. There is something more important that must be done." He spoke to the room at large. "With the exception of two guards, Ranger Commander Halst, Ranger T'Gree, Prime Council Bedouin, Councilor Carlyle and Vice Council Bedouin, please clear the room," Hjoolous said. It was clear it was an order.

Everyone did as ordered and cleared the room. Very shortly, the only people remaining were Hjoolous, two guards, Ben and his advisers, and the two Rangers.

Hjoolous got up and waved Ben to his chair. "Please, assemble your council, Prime."

Ben dipped his head to the Emperor. "Mother, please enable all monitors and enable two way communication. If any are not present, please ask the missing Councilors to join us."

Surprisingly, most of the Councilors were indeed already present. Only three had stepped away for personal reasons, and they rejoined the group shortly.

When everyone was present, Ben stood at the terminal that was normally his place. "Brothers and Sisters, it is my honor to introduce to you his Imperial Majesty, Hjoolous, Supreme Ruler of the Hyclarion Imperial Consortium." He turned. "Majesty, as you requested, the Council is assembled. AI Mother will introduce the individual Councilors as the need arises."

Hjoolous stood next to Ben so he could be seen clearly by everyone. "Councilors, it is our great honor to address you and welcome you to the Empire. As I'm certain all of you are already aware, I have been meeting with your Prime Councilor, and we have discussed a great many things.

"In the past, it has been required of any nation that joins the Empire to bring something with them to contribute to the Empire as a whole. We dare say that you have far exceeded that requirement. The simple fact that you have proven to us that this is the home world of the human race would have been enough, as our human citizens have suffered for far too long because of that bias.

"However, you bring far more to this union than simply a place to call home. You are bringing new technologies, new ideas, and most importantly, new citizens. Considering the state of the galaxy at this time, and what you have been able to accomplish on our behalf, truly humbles me.

"Our histories tell of your exiled brothers as being violent and warlike, yet intelligent, cunning, and very resourceful. That is the real reason your people were sequestered and suspected of being Lizard spies. They fit that profile far better than the one they told us of. Alas, we were wrong.

"As a people, the traits we attributed to you were accurate and most likely still are. However, our error was in not giving you the benefit of the doubt. That was our real mistake. We were at war and, at that time, surrounded by enemies. Over the years since that war, we have learned that, while you are a violent species, you also have the capacity for compassion, understanding, and reasoning; traits not originally attributed to you.

"We feel that over those same years, you have forgiven us our mistakes. Not one of your people has ever given us reason to believe that you were spies, as we labeled you, or are against the Empire in anyway. Still, your people have been repressed because they had no home planet. That is no excuse, but it is difficult to change an entire society.

"But change it must, and change it will. It is our intent not only to name this planet as the home of the human race, but to also declare you an independent nation under the protection of our Empire. Your people will have a place in our court so you will have a means to put your needs and concerns before the Empire. It is also our intent to assist you in the formation and protection of your new nation until such time as you can safely do so for yourselves. In effect, you will become a member nation of the Empire with all the rights and privileges you have been denied for so long. Within the bounds of Imperial law, you will be allowed to govern yourselves and those worlds under your influence.

"However, we will admit that your Prime Council has not yet made known to us what your wishes are, but we felt the need to address you directly to let you know our intent. We cannot officially apologize for past actions against your people, no matter how we feel about them, but perhaps we can try to make amends,"

As one, the councilors stood and clapped, showing their approval of what the Emperor had said. Even Ben was clapping and smiling. Hjoolous nodded his thanks to the council.

After the applause died down, Hjoolous again spoke. "It is clear to me that you are friends to the Empire. It is our wish that friendship continue. While what we say is generally what happens, we are sure it will be resisted. Terrel III is a valuable world, and many of our father's former adherents tend to count credits before counting lives. Many will want this planet for their own. However, it is clear that this is your home world, so they will not be able to claim it. That does not mean they will not try, so the official proclamation will most likely take some time. However, there is much we can do that will not be affected by the senate.

"Unfortunately, we are also now at war with the Lizards again. We will have a protective force assigned here as soon as one becomes available. Until then we will do everything we can to protect you and this world."

"Councilor Yoshi wishes to ask a question," Mother said.

Ben pointed to the appropriate monitor so the Emperor could face the man.

Yoshi again bowed to the Emperor. "Majesty, we understand your words as well as your intent. May we ask what can be done to protect the citizens currently on the surface?"

Hjoolous bobbed his head at the Councilor. "Currently, there is not much we can do for them. We brought along what force remained at Hyclarion that could be spared from protecting the citizens there. It isn't much; roughly four hundred Rangers in poorly armed ships meant for policing duties.

"My Lord Admiral Yolinar has issued recall orders for the Hyclarion fleets; if they are not molested in anyway, they will be back here in a week. However, it is believed that our fleets will be attacked by supportive elements within the Lizard territory. Although that has not yet happened on a large scale, some of our smaller units have come under attack by unknown forces. Their current orders are to avoid all enemy contact and regroup with the main fleet.

"As soon as we finish here, I will be ordering the Rangers currently in orbit to arrest Duke Tammerain on multiple charges, but most importantly, treason against the Empire. If no one else has actually fired on us by then, that act alone will most likely trigger the war. I do wish there was more we could do for the people on the surface, but the best we can hope for is that the Duke will not get the chance to issue orders regarding this world."

"Councilor Cormier wishes to be heard," Mother said.

"With respect Majesty," the councilor bowed. "Prime Councilor, I wish to make a motion to officially acknowledge that a state of war exists between the people of Terra and the forces of the Duke currently occupying our planet. Further, I would also make a motion that you immediately offer the aide of our meager forces to the Imperial Commanders trying to protect the citizens on the surface."

"My apologies, Councilor," Ben replied. "I already did that about four hours ago."

Cormier slapped his forehead. "I must have missed that. My apologies Prime Council."

Ben smiled back at the man. "However, you declaration is still valid, as I have not done that. Councilors of Terra, there are many beings on the surface of this planet that have nothing to do with the machinations of the Duke. However, they will be caught in those plans and most will forfeit their lives. So I ask all of you, and this decision must be unanimous, does a state of war exist between the people of Terra and the forces of Duke Tammerain on the surface of our planet?"

The vote did not take long, and Ben called Gail from his terminal. When she answered he returned her salute. Ben spoke to her in a very serious voice. "General Greenwald, as of a few moments ago, the Council of Terra has officially acknowledged that a state of war exists between ourselves and the forces of the Duke Tammerain on the surface of the planet. At this time I am authorizing you to arm and activate all weapons systems, both defensive and offensive. Please try to maintain our invisibility as long as possible. Also, you are not authorized the use of large-scale, tactical weapons. It is further asked of the Council that you take your lead from the Hyclarion Military leader currently on planet. Do you understand your orders General?"

"Yes Sir, I understand my orders," Gail replied. She paused, "Are we really doing this, Ben?"

He nodded to her. "It's mostly to try to protect the civilians on the surface and to assist the Rangers if they need it. Now you have the freedom to do what you need to do to save lives. Good luck Gail."

"I understand your intent, Sir. We'll do what we can," Gail replied. He gave her a brave smile before closing the channel.

Hjoolous smiled sadly and put a hand on Ben's shoulder. "It will be enough, Prime Council. We thank you for your assistance in this dark time." He turned back to the assembled Councilors. "We appreciate your efforts to assist us in the defense of this world. We also realize how late it is getting for all of you. As there are several matters we need to attend to, we would retire for the day and attend to them. We wish all of you a restful evening, and thank you again for your wisdom."

The Council once again bowed to the Emperor and Ben quietly asked mother to return the monitors to stand-by mode. Hjoolous turned to Ben and spoke quietly. "You’re dead on your feet, Ben. Get some rest if you can; we can talk more tomorrow."

"I will Majesty, but before we part for the evening, may I ask if you have reached a decision regarding Captain Coir and his people?" Ben asked.

Hjoolous smiled as Ben and his guards joined him in the elevator. "It is refreshing to see someone who is truly concerned with the well-being of others. The Captain and his crew will receive a full pardon on the condition they remain on this planet for a minimum of ten years to assist you and the Council in the transition of this world."

Ben grinned. "That is very good news, Majesty. Thank you for sharing it with me."

Chapter Six

Terran Marine Base Alpha

Command and Control

26 - 27 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

While the two leaders were resting and eating dinner, Gail and Yolinar were trying to keep the galaxy from exploding into war. Yolinar issued orders to the Imperial fleets bringing them all to red alert and putting them on a wartime stance. He also ordered all the fleets in Lizard space to avoid all contact, regroup with their main fleet, and then return immediately to Hyclarion. He warned all the separate Admirals that there was a strong possibility that they would be attacked before they could make the jump to hyperspace.

While he also informed the Admirals and Captains not in Lizard space of the reasons for the alert, he cautioned them that if the Lizards were really going to restart this war, no place in the Empire was truly safe. The closest fleet to Hyclarion was three days away in the Belisarius anchorage. A massive naval shipyard left over from the previous lizard war that was mostly shut down and unused. The fleet had been returned there to undergo repairs and updates to the aged ships. Yolinar ordered them to proceed to Hyclarion with all haste to protect the planet from an armada of modern Lizard destroyers and super-destroyers.

Yolinar knew it was a death sentence for the entire fleet, but there simply was nothing closer to send to the planet. The old Admiral in charge knew it too, but didn't even flinch when given his orders.

"He is a good man. He knows what he's facing, but didn't even question it," Gail said sadly.

"Admiral Tyrel is a good commander. He's an old one, but very crafty. I think he can still show those Lizards a thing or three," Yolinar replied. "His ships may be old, but his crews are very well trained. He only needs to delay that armada for a day. If he can do that, the Lizards are finished. Admirals Tarin and Histel will arrive, and that will be that. Both of those fleets are heavy assault units with dual carriers and six battleships each."

"That is a strong force, did you ever get an accurate count on the lizard ships?" Gail asked.

Yolinar nodded. "Six hundred and thirty four. However, it is not the number of ships that is important, but the type. Lizards are not good at small ship fighting, so they tend to forgo fighters and anything smaller than a medium cruiser, which they call a destroyer. Their two favorite designs are the Destroyer and the Super-Destroyer.

"The Destroyers are not overly powerful in weapons, but it carries a ton of armor and strong shields. They are also all but immune to fighter attacks because of their point defense and anti-fighter weapons systems. They can take a massive pounding while slowly working their target down.

"The Super Destroyers are massive constructions, heavy in both weapons and defenses. It can stand toe to toe with a standard battleship until both units are eventually destroyed. It is susceptible to small scale attacks by fighters due to a lack of anti-fighter armament. However, they take forever to build and are also horribly expensive.

"The armada headed to Hyclarion only has twenty-nine of those Super-Destroyers," Yolinar replied.

"Won't those Destroyers make quick work of the fighters from the carriers when they arrive?" Gail asked.

"They would if given the chance; the smaller destroyers will be Old Tyrel's main targets. You see, back in the days when his fleet was built, the Destroyer was the primary ship the lizards used, it was also the largest. His fleet was specifically designed and built to hunt and destroy those ships. If Tyrel can stay away from those Supers and focus on the regular ships, he should be able to last until the other fleets arrive," Yolinar replied.

"Well, at least no one's started shooting yet. That's always a good thing," Gail replied.

"Yes, this is always a good thing. I would prefer it if they didn't shoot at all, but I do not believe that will be the case this time," Yolinar replied.

"Admiral, High Command reports ships under attack, source unknown!" One of the techs working in the center called.

"Show me please," Yolinar replied as the man transferred the data to the holographic tank.

In the tank, data appeared showing four smaller Hyclarion ships under long range missile attack by unidentified ships as they were leaving a star system.  The attacking vessels appeared to have entered the system from the far side, hiding their presence from the small squadron with the noise and radiation of the local stars. However, before those attacking ships could get close enough to destroy the four Hyclarion ships, the Hyclarion ships had broken orbit and departed.

Amid the hail of point defense fire, the watchers saw the icon for a scanner probe being fired back toward the attackers. Yolinar smiled grimly and nodded agreement with the small force commander. "Good, we do need a positive identification of those ships. Although we are sure we know who they belong to, proof is always a good thing."

Gail checked the data feed and stats for that probe. "Probe will be in range in six minutes. The squadron will reach a safe jump point in four."

Yolinar shook his head. "They'll stick around for the probe data. Expect the ships to either slow down or alter course," Yolinar replied.

Gail smiled and looked back up at the Admiral. "Cruiser Dawn Light has slowed; one of its engines appears to be off line. The other three ships are slowing to assist and protect it."

Yolinar nodded. "Considering the amount of missile fire, the lizards should believe they have suffered battle damage. They will attempt to take advantage of this by pressing their attack."

"Missile launch from Dawn Light and Wrath of Justice; enemy formation separating," Gail reported. "The missiles are all part of the ruse to get the scanner into position, right? Our ships are appearing to make every effort to protect the damaged ship until they can get it 'repaired' and escape."

"Exactly so, the missiles forced the ships to put more distance between them, thus making it easier for the scanner to identify them. Our ships moved closer together to increase their point defense fire and to cover the cruisers while they fired their missiles," Yolinar explained.

Gail looked up at him. "The cruisers can't maintain their point defense fire while they launch missiles?"

Yolinar shook his head. "It takes an incredible amount of computing power to track and lock on to the incoming ships, at this distance it takes even more. Tracking and firing on the incoming missiles that have countermeasures of their own takes almost twice the fire power of the missile targeting. We simply have not been able to build a computer large enough or fast enough to be able to handle that many complex tasks at one time. When they make the jump, one ship will have to stop completely just to plot the jump while the others provide protective covering fire. It is the primary reason a warship never travels alone."

"Oh we gotta fix that!" Gail said.

"It is a limitation all warships share, General. The computations involved in space combat are simply too great for current computer technology," Yolinar replied. "Our enemy shares this weakness."

Gail put in a call to Marcy Carmichael, Ben's Science Adviser. "What can I do for you, General?" Marcy asked as her face came up on a small portion of the holotank.

"Minister Carmichael, I'm sorry to bother you this late in the day, but I believe there is something I learned that we might be able to do something about in order to help the Empire. This would fall under your ministry, so I'm calling you," Gail said.

"It must be important and urgent, what do you need, General?" Marcy asked.

"It is a weakness in the computing systems of the warships; none of them, enemy ships included, have the computing power to engage multiple targets with more than one weapon system at a time. Conversely, if a ship needs to jump and it's under fire, it can't because the computer needed to plot the jump is handling the targeting defenses of the ship," Gail explained.

"Oh my god! That's horrible!" Marcy said as she paled. "Look, I can't promise anything yet, but let me look into this if I can. I'll make some calls and talk to Mother. I'm waiting to testify before the Emperor right now, or I'd be on this myself, but I know of some people I can get working on it. I'll let you know as soon as we know anything. I'll get Ben to give this a high priority."

"Thanks Marcy, I knew we could count on you!" Gail replied.

"May I ask who this Marcy being is?" Yolinar asked.

Gail nodded. "She is one of the smartest people we have, Sir. She's really young, but knows how to get stuff dealt with. I'd be very surprised if she and her people didn't have a fix for this by morning."

"This has been an ongoing research project in the Empire for centuries. The one thing about this issue I am absolutely sure of is that it has no easy answer," Yolinar replied gravely. "I mean no disrespect to your people on this, but we have some pretty smart beings working on this as well."

Gail nodded. "I have no doubt of that at all, Admiral. However, sometimes all a problem needs is a fresh pair of eyes and a different point of view."

"Admiral Yolinar, please forgive the interruption, but the ships the survivors fleeing this world used had computer systems well able to perform multiple combat functions at once. However, I should point out that those ships actually had multiple computer systems installed and designed for each task. The fire control and weapons computer systems were capable of multiple engagements at a time. According to the design specifications in my memory cores, the smallest of those ships could engage up to six separate targets at once while maintaining point defense integrity," Mother replied. "This technology already exists."

Yolinar stared at Gail for a moment with his mouth slightly ajar. "General, with this system alone you could easily become the greatest military power in the galaxy."

"Admiral. It has always been our intention to join and support the Empire. We have no intention of taking over," Gail replied.

"You would share this technology with us?" Yolinar asked.

"I can't speak for the Prime or the Council, Admiral, but I believe they would approve. Once we have solid data, we can talk to him about it," Gail said.

Yolinar nodded. "I must speak with the Emperor as soon as possible. Communications, please connect me with Ranger Commissioner Holdst immediately."

"Yes Sir!" came the reply and the image of the Commissioner appeared over the table in front of Yolinar.

Holdst bowed. "What can I do for you, Admiral?"

"Things are starting to heat up, Holdst. Please make sure your people are prepared and safe. I also need permission to allow our new allies down here to examine all systems in the patrol ship, Dalphine."

"There are many classified systems on that ship, Admiral. Allowing a foreign power to examine it in detail would compromise the security of all of our military technology," Holdst replied. "There would have to be a very good reason to allow this."

Yolinar nodded his understanding. "This is critical to the defense of the Empire, Holdst. It could very well decide the outcome of the war."

"You feel strongly about it then?" Holdst asked.

Yolinar nodded. "I do. However, before allowing the technicians here access to the ship, I will be speaking to the Emperor on this issue. He will make the final decision."

Holdst raise a bushy eyebrow. "Who am I to go against the Emperor? If he allows it, then so do I."

"I will inform you of the reasons once we can speak face to face. This cannot be spoken of over a communicator," Yolinar said. "In fact, I would not mention this to anyone else at all. It is that important, Holdst."

"I understand, Admiral. I only ask that I be informed of the Emperor's decision on this, I will not speak on it further," Holdst replied.

Yolinar nodded to him once. "It will be so. Good luck, Brother."

"May Gaia guide and protect you, Brother," Holdst replied and closed the connection. Yolinar looked at the curious Gail. "Commissioner Holdst is my younger sibling."

Gail mentioned nothing further about the computer systems in the warships, and the Command Center got back to the business of war. The Dawn Light Squadron identified the three attacking warships as a Super Destroyer and two regular Destroyers belonging to Duke Amreliss of Hassinaiss Prime, the same duchy the ships were currently in.

Once a positive identification was made, the Dawn Light Squadron broadcast their I.D. to the incoming ships to make sure they knew exactly who they were firing on. The hail was ignored and the attack continued. Putting an end to the ruse, the four Hyclarion ships went to full power and made the jump to rejoin their main fleet assembling near the Corinth Nebula. So far, the location had been kept secret from the Lizards, and the fleet was as yet unmolested.

Several other small units that had been out on missions had come under attack by Lizard forces, and in two cases, Hyclarion Marines on the surface of a planet had been attacked by Lizard troops that had been hiding nearby. The Hyclarion Marine units did manage to evacuate, but not before they took losses. However, once back on their ships, they were again ambushed before fleeing the system. None of them escaped.

When Ben contacted Gail to inform her of the Council's decision, she had been getting worried about the state of the galaxy. The Empire had not been prepared for this, but they were recovering quickly.

Admiral Yolinar had placed his fleets in protective positions all along the border with lizard space, but the weakest place was still at the Capitol. Admiral Tyrel's anti-Destroyer fleet was still in transit when the Rangers reported that the enemy fleet in the Vega Nebula had begun moving. The data was relayed to Admiral Tyrel, and he adjusted his course. Intercept would now be just outside the Hyclarion system of Draconis; the Capitol of the Empire, in just under twenty-four hours.

"Mother, please have the Dalphine moved to the side of the hanger. Activate our combat drones and get them loaded in as many of our assault ships as you can. Let me know when they’re ready, and I'll tell them where to drop them. Call in all of our drone pilots and support personnel and get them ready for combat. Assemble our strike teams and get them geared up and ready to go. Maintain stealth protocol, but please activate and ready all military offensive and defensive systems with the exception of the heavy stuff. Activate the global defense network."

"Alert is issued, General," Mother replied. "Most of our people were in bed. Full readiness in fifteen minutes."

"Understood, Mother. That's why I'm having you wake them up now. Set Defense Condition three; let's make sure our people are all in their pods and restrict travel to local only," Gail replied. "Inform the Prime Council as well as His Majesty’s guards."

"Understood, transit system is shutting down; all cars are proceeding to the nearest pod groups," Mother intoned. "Global Network is complete; all systems are functional. Defensive systems ready, Offensive systems are loading. Completion in ten minutes. Full alert status in seventeen minutes - mark."

"General, I need to address the Empire. While I do so, please do not let any of your people enter the pickup range of the camera. I would keep this location secret as long as possible," Yolinar said, once she had finished giving her orders.

"Of course, Admiral, but why do you need to address the Empire, isn't that the Emperor's duty?" Gail asked in curiosity.

"He will, I'm sure. However, before he can do that, I need to make the announcement that the Empire is in danger. It prepares our nations for the words of the Emperor. My primary duty is the protection of the Empire first, and to the Emperor second. As such, I have not only the duty, but also the obligation to inform the Empire of all threats. I have the ability to declare a limited state of war as well, which is what I am about to do. By limited, I am restricted to defensive actions only until such time as the Emperor officially declares war. At that point, I am given full offensive powers as well. However, the Emperor cannot declare war on any nation without either approval of the senate, or by my declaration of hostilities. I need to make this announcement so the Emperor has the power to declare war on the Lizards." He shrugged. "Such is the way of Hyclarion politics."

"Actually, it makes a kind of sense; it means that no one person has the power to declare war, not even the Emperor," Gail replied.

Yolinar nodded agreement. "However, if the Emperor wanted to declare war on a nation, the Senate would most likely agree with him. Wars are good for business. The Senate is still made up of corporate leaders and business moguls left over from his father's reign. That lot cares little for the value of a life that is not their own. Although trade with the Lizards has been profitable, war is even more so. There was a faction in the Senate that was lobbying for the relaxing of the strictures prohibiting the ownership of humans in Lizard space. However, since it was an Imperial decree, there was little they could do to get it repealed short of convincing the Emperor to change his mind." He shook his head. "I got side-tracked. Communications, is the link with High Command ready?"

The operations officer waved the guards down to block the area behind the Admiral so no one accidentally wandered into pickup range of the holo-camera. Yolinar nodded approval of the action before turning back to the point of light representing the 'camera'.

"Citizens, I am Admiral Yolinar of Imperial High Command, Hyclarion. It is my sad duty to inform you that a state of open hostility has been declared against us by the Lizard Dukes. At present, we do not know if all of the Dukes are involved. However, we believe that enough of them are involved as to threaten the security of the Empire. As is my duty to you as your protector, I have ordered our military into a defensive posture in order to prevent attacks against you. I have ordered all military forces into a state of readiness and recalled all units currently on leave. I am also ordering all planetary militia and reserve units to active duty. If you are a member of one of these units, please report to your local armory or base immediately for further instructions and orders.

"Citizens, this is a dark time. The potential for loss of life is once again upon us. Remain calm, remain resolute and do not lose hope. Together, we will see this through and emerge stronger because of it." Yolinar smiled bravely. "Together, we will prevail. Long live the Emperor, long live the Empire!"

The tell-tale blinked once to let him know he was no longer being broadcast. He turned to the guards. "Thank you, please resume your duties."

The guards saluted him and returned to guarding the Command Center. Yolinar sighed, "There, that was the last step to getting our defenses activated. At this point, the Lizards will know we are on to their plots. Tammerain will have to move now, or lose the advantage."

"Admiral, the Emperor is on the com for you," the comm tech said.

"Thank you, please put him through," Yolinar replied, and bowed to the 'screen' "Majesty, I am here."

"Good, have you declared war yet?" Hjoolous asked.

"I have only just issued the formal statement. We have taken casualties, Majesty," Yolinar replied. "The enemy has been positively identified. It is also very clear they had intended to fire on and destroy our ships and Marines." He paused. "It is beginning."

Hjoolous nodded. "We understand, Admiral. We are ordering Commissioner Holdst to send down his Rangers to arrest Duke Tammerain for treason. We expect the Duke will not allow himself to be arrested. We would like you to work out a plan with the Commissioner to ensure the success of this mission. Failing that, Duke Tammerain must not be allowed to issue the orders for the attack on this planet or on Hyclarion. Do you understand, Admiral?"

"Duke Tammerain will be either taken into custody or destroyed, Majesty. However, we have received reports that the fleet threatening Hyclarion has begun moving. There is a better than average chance he has already given the order."

"Mother, has the Duke issued any orders or made any communications lately?" Gail asked quietly so as not to interrupt either the Admiral or the Emperor.

"Not up to this point. However, he is currently speaking to another Lizard Duke who is informing him of their action to this point. Duke Tammerain is very upset, and the two are arguing. I am recording the entire conversation, as it began at the same time the Emperor called for the Admiral," Mother replied. "The Admiral's announcement is being discussed."

Gail nodded. "We'll listen to it as soon as he's finished with the Emperor. For now, what's the status of those drones?"

"Ground assault drones are ready, loading will be complete in four minutes. Aerial drones are armed and ready. The deployment bays have been flooded in the underwater locations. However, not all the pilots have arrived yet. The Siberian, South African, and Australian bases are prepared to finish clearing their deployment areas and missile launch areas. Shield systems are prepared for activation, but in the case of the surface bases, activation will remove the remaining ice cover," Mother finished. "In addition, the Siberian base is reporting clear, but very cold weather. Both South Africa as well as Australia are currently covered by a massive storm system. Temperatures are well below the minimum limits for human exposure. I have ordered all personnel departing the base to be in sealed armor and all craft will carry an emergency survival module."

Gail nodded. "Approved, and good thinking." Seeing that Yolinar was still busy with the Emperor, Gail decided to get to work on the local deployments. "Since the Admiral is still busy, please bring up this base's coverage area in the tank. We might as well begin figuring out where to put the drones. Also, I want you to send a torpedo to the bases we could identify. If you can, target the connections between the base and the ships. If we can keep those troops from getting to their ships, it'll be that many less troops we'll end up fighting."

It had been a quirk of fate that the only bases to remain above the surface of the water had been buried under an ice cap.

While Gail issued her orders and made her plans, Yolinar spoke to his Emperor.

"Majesty, it is my intention to allow these people full access to the systems aboard the Dalphine for the purpose of research into the computer control systems of the craft," Yolinar said after ensuring that this comm was a local only and was secured and encrypted.

Hjoolous looked surprised. "That is a serious breach of security, Admiral. May we know your reasoning?"

"Majesty, these remarkable people have developed computer control and combat systems capable of multi-target operations independent of navigational needs. If they could upgrade our ships with this technology, we would have a very large advantage over the Lizards. Large enough to counter the raw firepower advantage the Lizards now have." Yolinar replied.

"Explain." Hjoolous ordered.

"All warships currently lack the computing power required to engage or perform more than a single task at a time. For example, if a cruiser is under a steady barrage of missiles, the computer is too occupied with shooting them down to plot a firing solution for the cruiser’s own missiles," Yolinar began.

"Yes, we remember that, what does that have to do with letting these people examine the classified systems on our ships?" Hjoolous asked.

"They developed computers that can do multiple tasks at once. Fire missiles while the point defense system is engaged, target, track and engage multiple targets on multiple vectors, and still allow the ship to calculate a hyperspace jump. Our computer systems currently do not have that ability.

"Majesty, in a battle between one of our standard dreadnoughts or even a lizard Super-Destroyer and a cruiser built with one of those computer systems, the cruiser would be the victor every time, simply because if can use its offensive weapons at the same time as it uses its defensive systems," Yolinar explained. "What I do not understand is that the ships they originally arrived in thousands of years ago had such systems built into them, but we did not attain that knowledge."

"That is curious, has the Prime Council agreed to this?" Hjoolous asked.

"Neither myself nor General Greenwold has spoken to the Prime Council, Majesty. I am only trying to get permission if they are to agree to this," Yolinar replied.

"Letting them examine our control systems could be considered treason, Admiral. If we allow it, many in the Senate will accuse us of exactly that," Hjoolous said.

"With respect Majesty, at least they will be able to complain. As it stands right now, I cannot predict the outcome of this war. If the rumors are true that the Lizards have been building Super-Destroyers for the last two hundred years, there will be little we can do to stop them if massed in a fleet. That many missile launchers massed all together would be able to keep any of our fleets in a fully defensive profile until they are pounded into dust.

"We need to have the ability to fight back, Majesty. If we cannot, the Empire will fall," Yolinar finished.

"We will need to consider this, Admiral. We will speak to the Prime Council tomorrow." He paused. "What do you think of these people?"

"They are a remarkable people, Majesty. They have survived against incredible odds. They seem very willing to assist us in any way they can. I have detected no treachery or secret agenda from any of them. I feel very confident taking them at their word. I believe they are exactly what and who they appear to be. Further, I believe they are friends to the Empire," Yolinar replied.

Hjoolous nodded his agreement. "We intend on declaring them a free nation of our Empire, provided we still have one when all this is over."

"I advise simply speaking to the Prime Council, Majesty. Tell him of the issue and the potential problems. At present we honestly have very little to lose by being completely honest with them," Yolinar replied.

"We feel the same as you, Yolinar. We believe Ben Bedouin is a being we can safely trust fully. He worries and cares about beings he has never met and most likely won't ever meet. Although we have not known him very long at all, we believe we could call him friend. The most amazing thing about it is that he is not the only one here like that. Most of those we have met seem to be the same way," Hjoolous admitted. "We doubt the rest of our government and advisers would feel the same way though."

"Majesty, you are the Emperor. In the end, the decision must always be yours," Yolinar replied.

"Commander Halst told us of a suggestion she made to the Prime after he found out how many billions of people he was going to be assuming responsibility for. She suggested to him that he make an offer to construct all the facilities needed to build and maintain our warships in exchange for Imperial assistance and protection. We are starting to believe she might have had a very good idea. Much of the Belisarius system is beyond recovery at this point. However, the position of this system is not the best."

"In a space war, the position of assets is not as important simply due to the nature of the combat. The Lizards know of the location of all our current shipyard facilities. It would be a simple matter for them to jump a fleet there and destroy them. No matter where those facilities are located, they will still need to be heavily defended. It is simply the way things are," Yolinar replied.

Hjoolous sighed and looked thoughtful. "Call your brother and get that fat Lizard in irons before he can hurt anymore of our people. Try to get some rest if you can. We'll give you an answer on the technology in the morning after we speak to the Prime some more."

Yolinar bowed his head in acknowledgment of his orders. "All major engagements are still at least a day away, Majesty. Do you want me to awaken you if anything changes?"

Hjoolous nodded. "Yes. If something happens, we want to know of it."

"As you wish, Majesty. What do you want done with the prisoner?" Yolinar asked.

"I am freeing the humans the Duke used to perpetuate this plan. Perhaps we can once again impose on our hosts to hold him in a cell for us until we return to Hyclarion for his trial," Hjoolous said.

"I will see to it, rest well Majesty." Yolinar replied.

Hjoolous had a thoughtful look on his face as he smiled at his friend and mentor. "You too, Admiral." He closed the channel as Yolinar bowed in dismissal.

Chapter Seven

Planetary Office of the Duke

Argassi Aerie and Polyponics facility

Planet Terral III

Cassian March

Duchy of Cassias

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

Those scheming, underhanded, egg-stealing, back-stabbing snakes! The other Dukes had to have figured out his plan to double-cross them. Now his plan was so seriously messed up he had no idea if he would be able to get it back on track. The Empire knew what was going on now, thanks to those snakes telling the Hyclarion attack fleet to move before it was time, and now the Empire would have a chance to stop him.

He sat on his warming stone, inserted the small encrypted jump-drive he kept his master file on, and opened it. Perhaps if he reviewed his goals he could adjust it enough to compensate for these set-backs. The spies on Hyclarion had reported that the majority of the Ranger fleet had departed, but could not discover their destination. As yet, no one had reported seeing them arrive anywhere important which could mean two things. They had sent the Rangers out on multiple unimportant tasks, or they had come here to try and stop him, and they were cloaked.

The timing of their departure certainly supported the second theory except for the fact that if they had indeed come here to stop him, then where were they? They should have arrived many hours ago, but hadn't.

He sent the order for the drop carriers to begin their assault. There was nothing like a planet getting slaughtered to bring the accursed Rangers to the 'rescue'. There was simply no possible way the Rangers would be able to stand against the Marines for very long.

He also ordered his troops to their ships and to proceed to Hyclarion. Once the Assault fleet arrived from the Nebula, his troops would land on the surface and secure the Imperial Throne and the 'Emperor'.

He also ordered his own ship readied; he would go with his troops to Hyclarion. With any luck at all, he could still pull this off.

Just as he finished typing up his orders, he was surprised by the door to his office being blown in. Several armored Rangers rushed in and pointed their weapons at him.

"Duke Tammerain of Cassius, by order of the Emperor, you are here-by under arrest for treason against the Empire. If you do not surrender peacefully, we will be forced to shoot you!"

One of the Rangers moved closer to him so he could see her face inside her helmet. He recognized her as the human Ranger that had originally arrived here to investigate the Pirates.

"Please resist, you piece of shit!" Ranger Commander Jance Halst said quietly.

As if in shock, Tammerain grasped his Ducal medallion and squeezed it. "I surrender, Rangers. Please do not fire!"

Unknown to the Rangers, or anyone else including Mother, the medallion triggered a dedicated transmitter on the Ducal Yacht that issued an immediate attack order to all the troops in the system.

As they escorted the now shackled former Duke to the roof and the waiting Patrol ship, Dalphine, the Duke couldn't help but begin chuckling. He looked down at the human female. "You have no idea what you just started human. Your precious Empire is dead! None of us will ever leave this planet!"

"Tammerain, you honestly have no idea what you're messing with. This planet is the home world of the humans you detest. There is far more here than even you ever knew of. Perhaps the worst thing for you and your schemes is that they remembered how to fight you from the first time you attacked this planet. You are lucky that the Empire did not believe the survivors that fled this world back then. If they had, and the Humans had become allies back then instead of now, we would have rolled over your empire in less than ten years.

"Now, that's still going to happen, but I can pretty much promise you won't be here to see it," Jance replied.

"What are you talking about? Nothing can stop what I just started. In two hours, six thousand Marines will be burning this planet to the ground!" Tammerain replied. "There is no way to stop them!"

"You see, that's where you're wrong. That trick was tried here before, and it failed. This race is the only race that ever repelled a Lizard Marine assault. Not only do they still remember how they did it, but they have already prepared for it. If any of your Marines actually make it to the surface, they will die here."

As she finished the civil defense sirens all over the city began going off. Warning the people of an impending attack.

The Duke smiled evilly. "Who said they weren't already here, human?"

Anti-Piracy Command

The forces attacking Argassi were not the Marines the Duke was speaking of, instead it had been the army troops he had stationed in the sub-levels of the city. They were not attacking the general population, however, instead, they were converging on the government tower where the Duke was located.

Closer to the giant Aerie itself, in a hardened building with a large skipper landing facility on its roof, Task Commander Warmake was rapidly organizing his personnel.

"I don't care what is happening there, I need to speak to the Duke now! How are we supposed to protect the citizens if we do not have an idea of what is going on? I don't care what it takes, get me some answers!" he spoke, loudly, to his communications officers.

"Uh, sir, the only person I can reach is someone claiming to represent the Terran Defense Command," one of the techs replied. "None of the other channels are working."

"What is the Terran Defense Command? Are our Pirates actually revolutionaries?" Warmake asked himself. He shrugged. "I will speak to them, put them on."

The image of the person that came up on his terminal was one he remembered. She was one of the two women that had asked the Ranger Commander to accompany them to further investigate the Pirate raids on the planet.

The woman bowed her head quickly to him. "It is good to see you again, Task Commander Warmake. I only wish it were under better circumstances. If you will wait just a moment, there is someone that wishes to speak to you."

"Forgive me citizen, but can you tell me what is happening here?" Warmake asked.

"I could tell you, Task Commander, but I do not believe you would take my word for it." She smiled at someone just out of range of the camera. "Task Commander Warmake, please let me introduce to you, First Admiral Yolinar of Hyclarion Command."

She stepped aside and the camera moved up to focus on the much taller being that stepped into the frame. "On behalf of his Majesty, I greet you, Task Commander Warmake."

"First Admiral!" Warmake said in awe as he recognized the being and bowed. "How may I be of service?"

"It is a long story we do not have the time for at the moment, Warmake. However, the Pirates you were investigating with the Rangers, were actually being used by the Duke Tammerain in a plot to overthrow the Empire. Currently, Hyclarion Rangers are arresting Tammerain on charges of treason. The troops he had stationed on planet are now attacking the government center where he is being held.

"We have reason to believe he has Lizard Marines on planet also. For the time being I need you and your command to work with General Greenwold to protect the citizens against all ducal forces. Any others you see are to be considered friendly; that is also to include any drone devices you might encounter. I know this is a difficult time and the enemy will not always be easy to identify. If your people have doubts, tell them to protect themselves if attacked, no matter by whom."

"Lord Admiral, if the Duke is under arrest, who is in control of this planet?" Warmake asked.

"It is not yet official, but a human named Benjamin Bedouin will be placed in charge here. The Empire has recognized this planet as the home world of the human race. After she finished with the Duke, Ranger Commander Halst will be seeking you out to assist you and to answer what questions she can," Yolinar finished. "I would also inform you that a state of war exists between the Lizards and the Hyclarion Empire."

"Understood, Lord Admiral. We saw your broadcast last evening. We had not received official word on them until now. Your orders?" Warmake asked.

"Protect the citizens, if you can spare them, send any extra armed skippers to the government building to assist the Rangers. General Greenwold will be your command contact for the time being," Yolinar finished.

"As you command, Lord Admiral. Thank you for explaining this to me yourself," Warmake replied.

"I have been told you are an excellent commander, Warmake. That is strong praise coming from a Ranger. I did not believe you would have accepted the word of anyone else, so I wanted to reassure you. Good luck, Task Commander."

"Thank you Sir." Warmake replied and again bowed as protocol demanded.

Seeing that the call had ended Warmake thought through what he had just learned. He was aware that almost all activity in the Command Center had stopped and everyone was watching him.

He looked up, "Fellow citizens, as you all heard, our Duke has been arrested for treason, and there is war between the Lizard and the Hyclarion realms once again. Each of us must look within ourselves and decide which side we will take. If you decide to support the Lizards, please excuse yourself from duty with our thanks for your service and go home. It is my intent to support our new commanders and the Hyclarion Empire.

"For now, we will continue to do our jobs and protect the citizens. I cannot make any promises if you chose to support the Lizards, but I will try to make sure you are returned to them safely. You all know me and know what my word is worth on the matter," Warmake said.

"Task Commander, what of the Lizards that work with us?" a Ferian technician asked.

"As much as it pains me to do so, I would ask them to place themselves in protective custody. I feel it would be far safer for them in one of our cells than it would be on the streets during this crisis. They will be treated fairly and with respect. To this point they have done nothing wrong and should not be considered to be criminals," Warmake answered.

A lizard Sub-Commander, listening over the open comm the techs had opened, replied to him. "Task Commander, there is wisdom in your words. I have no knowledge of this madness with the Duke, but I ask that our mates and families be brought to us if at all possible. To those of my people listening to this, follow the Task Commanders advice and proceed to the detention center immediately. Simply by our appearance, we are now enemies to the new rulers of this world. Let us seek out this place of safety offered by our commander."

"Thank you, Sub-Commander Farhiss. You and your people have served well. I do not wish to see any of you harmed during this crisis," Warmake replied and turned to another operator. "Please make sure we have ample accommodations for them." He looked around again. “If the rest of you have made your decisions, please resume your stations and duties. Our people are being threatened, and we need to protect them."

First Imperial Guard fleet

Near Corinth Nebula

Lizard Space

Hyclarion Imperial Consortium

"Admiral Chous! A fleet of Super-Destroyer class ships has just exited hyperspace four hundred units off the bow. They are heading directly for us!" the young ensign manning the scanner post called.

"Get me a count, Ensign. Operations, what is the status of our missing ships?" the Admiral asked.

"The Grolith Squadron is the closest at thirty hours out. Herculon and Baskilist Squadrons are still three days each," the commander replied after checking his tablet. "Herculon has lost their destroyers and Basklist is towing the cruiser Spirefire."

"I count twenty one Super-Destroyer and fourteen Destroyer class warships, they have twenty nine heavy freighters following them, the ensign reported.

"Signal all ships to mark our course. Helm come about on heading one-zero-one by zero-five relative. Speed point three. Order all ships to defensive posture and prepare for incoming missile fire. Navigation, plot a jump at two hundred units from the Nebula on our course from Hyclarion and relay it to all ships.

"Operations, order the missing squadrons to alter course and jump directly for the Belisarius system, best possible speed," the Admiral ordered.

"We're running?" Chous' flag captain asked.

The Admiral nodded. "We're in no condition for a fight of this size. We out number them, yes, but over half our ships are damaged to some degree. As it is we'll be trading missiles long before we reach the jump point simply because of the ships that are too damaged to move very fast."

The captain nodded agreement. "We could lose some of them in this."

"I know. We might have to evacuate the damaged ships and leave them," the Admiral replied.

"I'll get the preparations going on that," the Captain said. "Do you want me to relay that to the Basklist as well?"

"Yes, make sure Captain Asender understands that he'll need to scuttle it as well," Chous said.

"Sir! Twenty more Super-Destroyers have just uncloaked right on our exit vector. They are opening fire!" the tracking officer said.

"All units red alert!" Chous said. "Navigation keep working on that jump plot! All other units activate point defense! Evacuate all damaged ships and set them to self-destruct. Helm, once the plot is set, bring the fleet to full emergency speed and make for the jump point! If those ships are in our way, have the battleships remove them!"

Chous watched his flag captain give the orders for abandoning and destroying the damaged ships. Just as the Captain finished, the first fleet of Super-Destroyers came into missile range and opened fire.

"Defensive formation beta-three, now!" The Captain yelled.

The Admiral just shook his head at the Captain. "Once the ships get into formation, have the battleships concentrate offensive fire on the ships in front of us. If we can't get out of this trap, we're finished."

An hour later and many light years away, just under the floor of a deep, blue ocean, Admiral Yolinar staggered back and sat down forcefully on the steps into the 'pit' the holotank was in. One of the strongest, heavily defended fleets under his command was gone, utterly destroyed by the enemy. Briefly, he wondered how he was going to tell his mate that her elder brother was no more.

The human woman he was beginning to trust and respect, brought him a glass of water. "I'm sorry for your loss, Admiral. This is a horrible thing to have happen. But we need you to compose yourself. The war is not over and we still have people in harm's way that need you. Is there anything I can get you?"

Yolinar took the offered glass of water and drank it. He tried to give the woman a brave smile. "Thank you, but no. You are correct, General, we still have much to do. However, I must inform his Majesty of this immediately."

Gail nodded as she stepped back to let him stand. Seeing he was in a better frame of mind, she turned back to her duties of protecting the planet and assisting Yolinar as much as she could.

As soon as the Admiral retook his place at the tank, he tapped the open comm to his headquarters on Hyclarion.

"Astlani, order the Fourth Beta Centris ground assault unit to Terrel III immediately. They are to coordinate with the Terran Commander here, General Greenwold. Deploy the Ninety-First Support division to Belisarius. They are to salvage as much equipment as is possible and prepare to bring it to the Terrel system. This is to include all shipyards as well as the small craft assembly facilities. Have the Second Engineers stand-by for deployment to this system as well. There will be some major construction projects to be undertaken in the near future. However, do not send them until I get confirmation from the Emperor. As soon as those units are prepared, I'll want to see the commanders in person." He paused. "You might want to update our charts and maps with the new designations for this planet and system. The people here call the system Sol and this planet Terra."

"As you order, Admiral," the man replied.

Yolinar nodded once and minimized the screen. "Comms, I need to speak to the Emperor, please."

"One moment, Sir, I'll try to get him," the tech replied.

"General Captain Coir request permission to enter and speak to you," one of the guards called over the comm.

Gail turned and saw both former pirate captains waiting to be let in. "Let them pass and direct them down here."

The guard acknowledged the order and moments later the two captains were standing beside her and the large Admiral.

"We're a little busy at the moment Captains, but what can I do for you?" Gail asked.

"We heard you might have a problem we thought we could help with. Lizard Marine drop carriers?" Elrond said.

"We do, but how can you assist with that, Captain?" Yolinar asked.

"We have nine more Demons Breath missile systems we stole on behalf of the Duke. They are stored in the hold of the Bittertree," Elrond replied. "We might not be able to get all of them, but we can sure as hell make life interesting for them."

"Blessed Grolith! Where did you steal them from?" Yolinar asked. "Never mind, I don't think I want to know. General, those missile systems are surface to space anti-ship missiles. If those carriers are not escorted, they would be very vulnerable to them."

Gail nodded once. "Excellent, I was beginning to wonder how we were going to keep them from dropping their troops. How quickly can you get them uncrated? We'll just have to figure out how to get them to the surface."

Elrond grinned. "How about we uncrate them while we head up? Can we get tracking and target assist from you? The sensors on my ship are good, but this is not what they were designed for."

"We can go one better Ma'am!" the female tech that was standing by in the control room said. "I'm sure we can create a remote module for Mother to access the systems remotely. If the Captain can get them to the surface and ready to launch, you can control them directly from here."

Gail turned back to Elrond. "What do you think Captain? Wanna give it a try?"

"How much time do we have to get into position?" Elrond asked.

"The drop carriers are still working through the asteroid belt. We estimate they can reach planetary orbit in just under five hours. If they jump, they could be here in twenty minutes," One of the tracking techs replied.

Elrond pointed to the tech, "We need to move! You're with me!" He and the tech ran back for the doors, leaving the other Captain standing with the two commanders. The older man nodded to them. "I am Captain Gerent Oldstone of the Nistian Dew and Elrond's second in command. My I assist you?"

"Yes you can, Captain." Gail said before Yolinar could say anything. "In orbit above us is at least one Lizard destroyer. It's cloaked and hunting the Ranger ships. I need you to find it and any others that are up there so we can destroy them. Unfortunately, you'll be looking for a needle in a haystack. There are two hundred Ranger Patrol ships up there too, all of them cloaked."

Gerent snorted. "You don't want much!" he shook his head. "I've learned a few things in my time as a pirate, but I'll need the transponders of the patrol boats so we don't target them accidentally. Luckily, drop carriers can't cloak. It interferes with the support systems of the stasis units."

Gail grinned. "The tracking section is up there, Captain. Good luck."

"If there is more than three of them up there, General, it'll be those patrol boats that will need the luck," He nodded to the Admiral and moved up to the tracking section.

"What did he mean by that?" Gail asked as she turned back to her battle.

"A cloaked ship cannot raise defensive shields or it cancels the cloaking field out. Once he locates the enemy and the patrol boats begin shooting them down, they will become vulnerable to the weapons of the Destroyers. A Destroyer heavily out guns a single standard patrol boat," Yolinar replied. "If the Destroyers group together for defense, we could easily lose half the patrol boats."

Gail was surprised, but had an idea. "Mother, reconfigure two aerial assault drones per base for low orbit attack. Equip the mass drivers with anti-matter rounds."

"Unable to comply, General. Prime Council authorization required for anti-matter creation and deployment," Mother replied.

Gail sighed. "Okay, start on getting them ready, I'll call Ben."

Yolinar cocked his head to one side and look at Gail. "General, what is your plan? I am not following you."

"Rapidly fired high-speed anti-matter projectiles concentrated on one point of a shield," Gail said as she typed in her request and reason for it to Ben.

"Shields are a magnetic construct that absorbs the energy of…" Yolinar paused.

Gail nodded. "They absorb energy. What happens when they reach their limit? What would happen if that were to happen when the rounds were still being fired?"

"That is a very devastating attack, but what of the rounds that miss? Mass drivers in space have no effective range nor do they lose velocity." Yolinar asked.

"The containment field of the anti-matter in a small round can only remain intact for a finite time without an energy source. Something on the order of seven point five seconds. Just enough time for them to be created, fired and make it to the target," Gail said. "I did some research on this a few days ago, when trying to figure out how to come up with some options to defend us if we needed it."

"It is indeed good we are allies, General. I would not enjoy engaging you in battle," Yolinar said.

Gail smiled at the compliment. "Admiral, I don't enjoy engaging anyone in battle."

Bedouin residence

Command Pod Alpha One

27 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol System

Ben was sitting in one of the loungers in the living room, enjoying a second cup of coffee while he waited to see when the Emperor would want to see him again. He was surprised when the door chime announced a visitor.

Deirdre was closer and answered the door. She was momentarily stunned to see the Emperor standing there. But she remembered herself and bowed to him. "Majesty! My apologies, this is unexpected."

"It is we who should apologize, Minister Bedouin. We would speak with your brother in a less formal environment, if that is possible," Hjoolous asked.

"Of course, Majesty, please come in," Deirdre replied and stepped aside to allow him, the Senator, and two guards to enter.

As they entered, Ben also knelt to the Emperor. "Please, Prime Council, this is your home. Do not bow to me here."

"It is out of respect for you, Majesty, not just because of protocol," Ben replied. "This is not what I was expecting this morning. Has something happened?"

"I'm afraid so, Prime Council. We find that we need to speak to you frankly and honestly. For the time, we would be done with the formalities. We must speak plainly and honestly to one another, and, I dare say, candidly. For this meeting, I would have you address me by name, if I may do so with you as well," Hjoolous said.

Ben looked a little confused. Something major must have happened. This young man was not the Emperor Hjoolous, but the ruler Hjoolous. He nodded his head once to the being. "You can always address me as Ben, Hjoolous. I do consider you to be a friend."

Beside Hjoolous the Senator looked distinctly unhappy, but Hjoolous had commanded, and that was that. Looking back to Hjoolous, Ben motioned to the couch. "Please have a seat, would either of you like something to drink or perhaps a snack?"

"No, thank you. Not at this time, Ben." Hjoolous replied, but smiled sadly. "I was just informed by Yolinar that the entire First Guardian Fleet has been destroyed by the Lizards."

Apparently, not even the Senator had known that, because she gasped and looked at her future husband in horror.

The news shocked Ben as well. Admittedly he had no idea of the reality of that announcement, but knew it had to be something very bad.

Ben looked troubled. "One moment, Hjoolous." He looked at the ceiling. "Mother, could you please ask Jorga to join us, then secure the apartment in privacy mode. I will need for Jorga to interface with the Council and Council computers."

"Your wife will join you as soon as she finishes her shower. Aside from her connections, the room is secured Prime," Mother replied.

"Thank you, Mother," Ben replied absently. "Hjoolous, I don't really understand the size or impact of the loss of that fleet because I have no idea how big it was. I know it has to be a very bad thing based only on your reactions.

"Has the Admiral briefed you on the situation on this planet?" Ben asked.

"No, he has only kept me informed of the galactic situation. He is the supreme military leader. I can overrule him if I need, but I won't. Because of the loss of the fleet, I will be making a formal declaration later today declaring open war on the Lizards. Once that happens, Yolinar will have free reign to prosecute this war as he needs.

"I have included Glandril today as this talk will most likely be the most important one we ever have," Hjoolous said. "The results of which will have a pronounced effect on both our worlds."

"I see," Ben replied. That sure sounded dire enough. He looked at the now sad female. "Madam Senator, do I have your leave to address you by name as well? Of course you may address me in a like manner."

She gave him a slight smile. "Ben, if the Emperor demands informality, it is expected that all titles also suspended. You do not need to ask; permission is implied."

Ben shook his head. "I would much rather actually have your permission, Senator." He shrugged. "I feel it’s only polite to ask."

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "My father would have a fit, but yes, you may address me informally, Ben."

Ben smiled at her. "Glandril, I want you to know that I have been studying and thinking on this a great deal, and I feel that I can at least partially understand your point of view when dealing with our discussions. If this is going to be as serious as it sounds like it’s going to get, I would offer you something to think about as well."

She looked interested. "What would that be?"

"Business and commerce are very important to any nation, no matter what size. However, what purpose would any of that serve if there were no customers?" Ben said. "As important as business interests are, they must always come after the security and protection of the people and nation that are the customers and consumers that make those businesses even possible. Without the people, there can be no commerce. Without the people, there is literally nothing. If the Lizards are allowed to win this war because of worries about who ends up controlling what resource or technology, then it becomes a moot point simply because the business will no longer exist. Consider if you will, what would happen to your father's business interests or those of the other senators if the Lizards take control of the Empire.

"There is very little room for private enterprise in a totalitarian government," Ben finished. "It really is that simple."

"Nothing is ever that simple, Ben. However, I will think about what you've said," she promised.

Ben nodded. "Fair enough. All I can ask is for you to consider it."

As he finished speaking, Jorga left their bedroom wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tee-shirt. When she saw who was sitting in the living room she was embarrassed. "Mother! Why didn't you tell me the Emperor was here? I'm dressed like a bum!"

"It doesn't matter this time, babe. I need you and we don't have time for you to change," Ben said as he waved her into the room.

"Okay, what do you need?" she asked a little confused.

"We're in a state of emergency; the Lizards have destroyed the First Imperial Guards. Hjoolous came here to talk to me candidly, and I'll need you to interface with the Council so I can make decisions on the fly," Ben explained.

"Actually Ben, you might want to include all your ministers and advisers. I am going to be naming you as the ruler of this sector. You will need to prepare for that," Hjoolous said. Before Ben could protest, Hjoolous stopped him. "No Ben. It has to be you. For what we will need to ask of you, I would not trust anyone else."

Ben looked surprised but reluctantly nodded. "Mother could you ask everyone to join us. Make sure the Council can monitor the discussion so Jorga can tell me of their decisions and their advice."

"They will join you shortly, Prime Council. However, General Greenwold is involved in several battles at the moment and it would be unwise to take her away from that at this time," Mother replied.

"I understand, Mother. I'll try to handle her part of this then," Ben replied.

Without asking, Jorga got up and got refreshments for everyone and refilled Ben's coffee.

"While we await the others, may I ask a personal question of you?" Hjoolous asked.

"Sure," Ben said surprised.

"How long have you and the others been joined?" Hjoolous asked. "I admit it is unusual to see a human with a sibling as a mate though."

Ben was surprised. "Uh, well, we actually haven't been official joined. But Jorga and I have been together for the last three years. Although I should officially marry her one of these days, we are already joined in our hearts."

Hjoolous nodded. "That really is where the bonding takes hold. Glandril and I have yet to reach that level, but we are trying. Perhaps your words to her earlier will help us with that."

It did not take long for the rest of Ben's family and advisers to arrive. Once they did Ben spoke to them. "Everyone, Hjoolous has asked that titles and protocol be set aside for the time being. This discussion is informal, but vitally important to everyone. Listen to what is said, and reply honestly. This is very important.

"During the evening last night, the Empire lost one of its most important and strongest fleets; the First Imperial Guards." Ben finished.

"The most important fact involved there was the manner in which they were lost," Hjoolous said, picking up where Ben left off. "The Lizards formed up their ships and kept them on the defensive; hammering them with so many missiles so quickly, that the Guards never got the opportunity to fight back."

Marcy picked it up from the Emperor. "Ben, the computer systems in modern warships do not have the ability to multi-task. If a ship is under fire, as the fleet had been, they do not have the ability to track targets for the offensive weapons. If an enemy has the missile capacity and can get the first strike, they can keep the target in place and on the defensive until enough missiles get through to destroy them. Additionally, the ships cannot even jump to hyperspace unless the computer is free to handle the navigation."

"Admiral Yolinar tells me that you and your people do have computers that can, uh, multi-task. He feels that we desperately need to employ this technology or we could very well lose this war. He has asked me to allow your technicians full access to not only our computer control systems, but also to the designs of all our warships. This is at the core of what I need to discuss with you.

"Terrel III, Terra, is your world. When I officially give that to you, I will also give you control of this sector. That includes four other systems and everything in them. Which includes mining operations, two research facilities, and at least five potentially habitable planets.

"This is more than I would normally do. The reason for this is something Ranger Commander Halst told me she suggested you offer for your freedom. I would like to have you and your people undertake the refit and construction of our warships. However, in order to do that, it means that we can have no secrets from one another. Our trust must be absolute and beyond question. Because I will be giving you, and you alone, the ability and the tools to destroy the Empire."

"Hjoolous, I cannot give you what you are asking for without letting you know and understand exactly what it is you are asking," Ben replied. "Everyone, for a few moments, I will need all of you to step outside. The guards too. No one but Hjoolous and I can be in here."

When the guards protested, Hjoolous overruled them and ordered them to leave. Once the Room was empty, Ben looked at the ceiling. "Mother, Ultra secure mode. AI access only."

"Secure mode engaged. AI access only," Mother repeated confirming his orders.

"Hjoolous, what none of the others, and that includes the Council, know is that humans are not the only survivors of The Fall. At present, I am the only living being that knows of this. Normally, I would have never told anyone, not even Jorga. However, in order for you to understand exactly what you are asking for, you need to know, too. No one else can know this," Ben said seriously. "Not even your closest adviser or those you trust implicitly. No one can know."

"I understand, Ben,"

Ben sighed and looked up at the ceiling again. "AIDAN, are you there?"

"AIDAN systems are online. Good Morning Your Majesty."

"Good Morning," Hjoolous said in confusion. "Ben, what happened to your AI?"

"Nothing, this is the real AI. A Sentient AI called AIDAN. Mother is simply the local interface for it. It was created and brought online during The Fall. We don't have multiple AI assisting us; we only have one, and he controls everything."

"That is not entirely accurate, Prime Council. As I said when we last spoke, we are the linked minds of multiple artificial minds, resulting in a larger, more powerful intelligence," AIDAN replied.

"According to the records, and apparently unknown to AIDAN," Ben grinned. "The system achieved sentience during the height of the war. The ships that departed here each carried a quantum, meta-state computer system with an installed AI. Very similar to the ones installed here.

"Currently, AIDAN is the only member of his race. If we begin building and installing the AI systems in your warships, there is a chance they too will achieve sentience. Many people, my own included, would be uncomfortable with this situation."

Hjoolous nodded. "I see. AIDAN, if I may ask, what is keeping you caring for the lives of the people entrusted to your care?"

Hjoolous, Ben and AIDAN spoke for another twenty minutes before saying good-bye and returning operations to normal.

"That does shed a new light on this issue, Ben. Would you be willing to ensure that the same safety measures are used in the new AI that you would be building?" Hjoolous asked.

"I am sure if I didn't, AIDAN himself would. In addition to that, we can make sure that each AI has a kill code built into it that would shut down the system in an emergency, if needed," Ben said. "Now you know the deepest secret we have." He grinned, "Well, at least, that I'm aware of."

Hjoolous nodded. "I'm satisfied. Can we let the rest back in now?"

"Certainly! I'm going to have to come up with a reason for making them stand out there for this long though," Ben said as Mother let the waiting group back into the room.

When everyone was finally back in the room, Ben looked at Jorga. "What is the Council's opinion of accepting His Majesty's offer and to begin building ships for the Empire? This would mean we would be sharing all of our technology with the Empire, but they would be sharing most of theirs as well."

Jorga nodded. "They agree. It is their general consensus that we are already linked to the fate of the Empire; as such, it is in our best interests to ensure it has the best defenses we can make."

Hjoolous nodded and stood. "AI Mother, would you please record the following?" Hjoolous asked as he motioned Ben to kneel before him.

"Certainly Majesty," Mother replied.

"Prime Council Benjamin Bedouin, it has been proven to us that the planet Terral III, hereafter to be known as the planet Terra in the Sol system, is the originating home world of the human race. As the leader of the group of survivors of the long ago war that forced your brothers to leave, we are naming you Supreme Regent of this world. Do you accept this charge on behalf of your people?" Hjoolous asked.

Ben knelt before Hjoolous when he began to speak. "I do, Majesty."

Chapter Eight

Terran Marine Base Alpha

Command and Control

26 - 27 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Earth, Sol system

"General, aerial assault drones successfully reconfigured of orbital attack," Mother replied.

"Thank you, Mother. Assign them to…" Gail began only to be interrupted by Mother again. "Alert! Lizard Marines detected on the surface. Lizard Marines have been identified in multiple locations. Effected Aeries are Cormorant, Gianha and Spireview. The research facility on the Aramic Plateau is also under attack."

"Order ground assault drones deployed to the Aeries. Can the Arabian base protect the Aramic Plateau as well as Spireview?"

"Negative, current drone compliment is insufficient to protect both targets," Mother replied.

Gail bit her lower lip. "How many people are at the Aramic Plateau?"

"Current compliment is fifteen hundred beings of various races. They are mostly human but there are several prominent Imperial Anthropologists located there," Mother replied.

"It doesn't matter who they are, Mother. They will all die if we can't do something about it. Redirect all local aerial drones to that location to slow the lizards down. Use all available assault and unarmed craft in the area to evacuate the Aramic Research facility to Aerie Spireview," Gail ordered. "Get me the commander of the Spireview Anti-Piracy department."

Yolinar had issued a general announcement to all civil authorities on the planet that the Duke had been arrested and told them who was now in charge. So when the somewhat timid looking being appeared on her screen, the being knew who Gail was.

"I am Task-Co-Commander H'vtrith of Spireview. What can we do for you, General?"

"We are attempting to evacuate the researchers on the Aramic Plateau, Task Commander. The lizards are assaulting them as well. Do you have any ships that can assist in either slowing the lizards or in the evacuation?"

"I believe we can, General. Our armed skippers are currently assisting your drones in defending the Aerie, but I am certain we can send a few to Aramic. I do have eight cargo shuttles I can commandeer that I will send as well. Where are you evacuating them too?" H'vtrith asked.

"For now, you are the closest defended destination. We just don't have anywhere else for them to go yet. Let's get them safe, then worry about getting them comfortable," Gail replied.

H'vtrith grinned. "I knew there was a reason I liked you humans! I'll get them moving, General."

Gail smiled back at her. "There are several of our aerial drones and shuttles that will be assisting you, Task Commander."

"We'll get them out of there, General. Protecting citizens is our job after all." H'vtrith replied. She turned and began giving orders. Then glanced back at her screen, "Is there anything else, General?"

"That'll do, Task Commander. If you have the time, could you put out the word that we need to know if there are any other research facilities or groups of unprotected civilians we need to worry about?"

"I can do that right after we get everything moving, General." She paused. "General, on behalf of my people, thank you."

"For what? I haven't done anything," Gail replied surprised.

"Yes you are, General. You care. You're trying to save us. The Lizards would have never done anything like this, even if they were the ones getting attacked. As long as you care about the people here, we will support you as much as we can. That's what I was thanking you for," H'vtrith replied.

Gail smiled at her. "Task Commander, we can talk more once the emergency is over. For now, let's get our people safe."

H'vtrith nodded. "We will, General."

Gail winked at her and disconnected the call. She sighed. "Okay, what's next?"

"Drop carriers are preparing to jump!" Tracking reported.

Gail nodded. "Mother, how's Captain Coir doing?"

"All missile launchers are set up and ready to fire. The ship will be in position in four minutes," Mother replied.

"Will you have any problem controlling the missiles, AI Mother?" Yolinar asked.

"Negative, Admiral." Mother replied. "These systems are very similar to my own Mark VI Patriot launching systems. The differences are in the capabilities of the missiles themselves and not in the launcher."

"Understood Mother. Fire the missiles as soon as you can get a lock on them after jumping," Gail replied.

"General, we’ve got two Destroyers located. There doesn't appear to be any more, but we won't know for certain until after the engagement," Gerent said from the tracking section.

Gail nodded. "Your call, Admiral. Keep looking or take them out?"

"I am surprised he could find even the two that he has." Yolinar said. "Where are they, Captain?"

"One of them is above us and the other is on the opposite side of the planet, Sir." Gerent replied.

"We will engage them, please keep looking for any others, and let me know immediately if you detect any," Yolinar asked.

Gerent nodded at the order and got back to work with the techs. "AI Mother, what is the status of the specially equipped aerial drones?"

"Deployed and ready Admiral. Currently there are four drones available for each target," Mother replied.

"Please take the tracking information from Captain Oldstone and move them into position," he used the controls, now that he was more familiar with them, to connect with his brother. "Commissioner, we have located two Lizard destroyers in orbit with you. There may be more; I am sending you their location, but I would have you withhold attacking for the moment,"

"May I ask why, Admiral?" Commissioner Holdst asked.

"General Greenwold has prepared a surprise for them. With luck, it will force any other Destroyers that we cannot find to de-cloak and raise shields," Yolinar explained.

"I see. We will withhold any attack until you give us leave, Admiral," Holdst replied. "Commander Halst has secured the Duke and is returning to your location. Are you certain these humans will be able to contain him?" Holdst asked.

Yolinar nodded. "It will not be the first time the holding cells here have had Lizards as occupants. He will be very secure here. Also, in a few moments, several Lizard drop carriers will be arriving in orbit with you. We will be launching missiles to engage them, however, any assistance you can give to that effort would be appreciated."

"What of the firing solution for the missiles? Will we be in the way?" Holdst asked.

"Devils Breath has been given your transponder codes as friendly craft," Yolinar replied.

The commandant was surprised but Yolinar waved him off. "The Pirates had stolen a shipment of the missiles at the behest of the Duke; we are simply using them for a higher purpose instead of returning them to their owner."

"Admiral, the drones are in position," Mother replied.

Yolinar smiled. "AI Mother, please coordinate the attack so both ships are hit at the same time. They may engage when ready."

"Orders sent. Drones are in attack formation and climbing," Mother replied. "Firing solution is optimal. All weapons firing, maximum velocity."

"Great Grothil! What was that?" Holdst asked, but was distracted by someone off screen. "No, do not attack, wait for my order!"

In orbit, near the Commandant's ship, several small anti-matter explosions were detected followed shortly by the de-cloaking of a Lizard Destroyer. The explosions were against its hull and seemed to be eating into the deadly craft like acid.

The Destroyer on the far side of the planet did not get its shield up before the barrage of projectiles reached the power systems and destroyed the ship. However, the one above the Command pod did get its shields raised, however it was clear the ship was heavily damaged. The drones continued to fire until the keel shield generator overloaded and failed. Shortly after that, the ship exploded as the rounds detonated the missile warheads stored in the magazine.

"Lizard Destroyers have been destroyed, Admiral," Captain Oldstone replied grinning. "No other ships detected."

Yolinar smiled at the man and waved him to come back down to the tank. "Good work, Captain."

While Yolinar was engaging the Destroyers, Gail was dealing with the drop carriers. Just as the aerial drones fired, six drop carriers arrived in high orbit.

"I hope he's in position, Mother. Fire the weapons!" Gail ordered.

"Targets reacquired. Targets locked. Updating firing angle and tracking information. Firing launchers one through six," Mother replied. "Hot track, targets still locked. Impact in four minutes."

"Carriers are preparing to drop pods," the operations officer said. "The missiles aren't going to make it in time, General."

"Yes they will," Holdst said from the open comm window. "All craft, engage the drop carriers. We need to keep them from releasing their pods for three and a half minutes. Those humans just saved our fur, now we get to return the favor!"

Holdst ordered his craft into battle just as the last Destroyer blew up. Several of the police craft de-cloaked and moved into a higher orbit, firing at the drop carriers from below, where the drop hatches were located.

"If we don't get those pods before they are dropped this could get messy on the surface," Gerent said joining the commanders.

"We already have those nasty bastards on the surface, Captain. Four locations are already under attack by them," Gail said showing him the areas in the big tank.

Gerent looked and saw that the Aramic Plateau was in the most trouble. He nodded and opened a comm. "Hidodges, how's the Dew?"

'Just fine, Captain. She'll be ready for whatever we need," the man on the other end of the comm replied.

"Good, I need you to take her to the Aramic Plateau research facility and pick up as many civilians as you can stuff in the holds. Take them to Spireview Aerie. Coordinate with Spireview APC. I wouldn't mention that you are former pirates though."

"Departure stations!" the man, Hidodges could be heard yelling. "Will you be joining us, Sir?"

"No, I am needed here. You should know that the facility is under assault by Lizard Marines. If you need to fire the weapons, make damn sure of your targets; there are lot of friendlies trying to keep the lizards back," Gerent replied. "Do us proud, Son."

"We will, Dad," Hidodges replied and could be heard giving orders to the crew as the comm closed.

Gerent looked up at the Commanders. "If there is anyone left to rescue when they get there, Hidodges will get them out."

"General, we have lizard Marines reported at five aeries, but Argassi isn’t one of them. It's just regular troops there. The drones are holding them back, but just barely," the operations officer said.

"Damn." Gail said and looked down at the table, shifting the view to the Argassi battle zone. Bring our shuttles back and load up the troops. We're going to have to do this the old fashioned way. See if we can get any help from the Brazilian base," She paused. "Get the reserves equipped and ready, but do not deploy them."

"Reserves?" Yolinar asked. "You have additional troops?"

"Not exactly, Sir. The reserves are made up of regular civilians that have volunteered to serve in the military. We just haven't had the time to get them trained yet," Gail replied grimly.

"You would send untrained civilians into battle?" Yolinar asked.

"Considering what would happen if I do nothing, yes I would, Sir," Gail replied confidently.

Yolinar smiled at her. "There is far more to your people than we ever knew, General."

"With respect, Admiral. If the choice is to be killed after surrendering or die fighting it, even our children would pick up a weapon," Gerent replied. "There is no choice." He looked down as if in shame. "Although I feel that some of our brothers may have had that beaten out of them after centuries of Lizard rule."

"Then we will have to remind them, Captain," Gail said. "Once loaded, deploy our ground troops to defend Argassi." She drew a line across the wide bridge separating the majority of the city from the shore of the island it was built near.

The parts of the city that had been on the island had already been evacuated into the city when the attack had begun. From the looks of things, the Duke had been housing a large unit of his regular military on the island. There had been some units that had been in the city itself, but those had been dealt with quickly by the skippers of the Anti-Piracy Command as well as the drones Gail had ordered deployed there. Now the only threat to the city was the massed army occupying the evacuated parts of the city on the island.

"Can we shift any air cover over to them?" Gail asked.

"Not until the Aramic Plateau is done, until then, all we have are the shuttles that are going to drop them off and the manned skippers from Argassi Anti-Piracy Command," the operations officer replied. "Argassi APC has already lost three of their skippers due to ground fire from those troops."

"Well, at least the weather's clearing!" Gail replied.

"They shut down the Aerie. It is a byproduct of the mining operations that creates a small, localized low pressure system around the mines," Gerent explained.

"Well, without the rain and lightning, our camo tech should work a lot better," Gail replied.

When both men looked at her in confusion, Gail explained. "We developed a type of body armor that hides most of the life signs of the occupant, as well as using a low power imaging system to mimic their surroundings. I had a squad of troops waiting in the tree line when we invited Commander Halst down here and the big ship from Argassi APC didn't detect them."

"You could hide troops from a search and rescue command ship?" Yolinar asked.

Gail nodded. "It sure seemed to surprise the Rangers, too. For a moment, I thought they might shoot us when I called the squad in."

"I would imagine so," Yolinar replied. "Rangers do not generally like those types of surprises."

"Well, let's hope the Duke's army likes them even less," Gerent replied. "General, we do have our own version of 'Marines'. They are little more than stupidly brave civilians, but they would do the initial boarding when we raided a ship. Most of them are out with the ships at the moment, but eighteen of them are still here. Where would you like them to be?"

"Please ask them to report to Commander Esau in the Marine deployment center. Thank you, Captain, you don't have to do this you know," Gail replied.

Gerent smiled at her sadly. "Yes General, we do."

While Gerent relayed the order, Gail quickly sent Esau a message about the former pirates and how he wanted him to handle them. She was going to have him mix them in with their regular Marine squads to bolster their numbers. Eighteen wasn't much of a 'bolster', but at this point anything would be an improvement and at least these folks had some experience.

When she finished, she switched back to the battle unfolding at the planetary capitol; Stardock. The Duke had a huge unit of 'Marines' held near there, and several large troop transports had been sited close by waiting for the Marines to get finished and move on to another area.

"Mother, if we can force those transports down near the Lizards, that should give them more to worry about than taking control of Stardock. Have our Aerial drones shift over to those transports, and see if we can't get the lizards moving in that direction, too," Gail ordered.

"The transports are shielded, General. The drone's weapons are mostly ineffective against them," Mother replied.

"Pull four of the anti-matter equipped drones off orbital duty to knock down those shields, but tell the pilots to be very careful of their targets. Remind them that they are shooting what amounts to nuclear weapons," Gail ordered.

"Drone fighters redeployed. They will be on station in ten minutes." Mother paused. "All missiles expended. Two carriers remain, one is still capable of dropping its pods, the other carrier's orbit is decaying rapidly. It will crash into the ocean twelve hundred miles east-north-east of the former city of Lima, Peru. The water temperature in that region is low enough to ensure any survivors will not be able to reach a land mass," Mother reported.

"Can the drones used on the destroyers target the remaining carrier?" Yolinar asked.

"Negative, Admiral. It is too high," Mother replied. "However, the Ranger ships are still engaged." She seemed to pause. "Drop pod deployment in progress. Carrier is losing altitude and propulsion." Just as Gail was about to speak, Mother spoke again. "Carrier is no longer under power. Impact in Northern Barrier Mountain Range eighty-six miles south and west of pod group AM-431. Estimated magnitude in excess of ten mega-tons."

"Issue an alert for those pods to brace for the impact and put all local repair drones on standby. Warn all local surface populations and any aircraft in that vicinity." Gail ordered. "Where are the pods it got deployed coming down?"

"Drop profile is irregular, however I believe they are trying to hit near Argassi," Mother replied.

"What is their fascination with that city?" Gail asked rhetorically.

"Forces assaulting Aeries Heldargo, Alleate, Consial, and six others have surrendered. Nine others appear to have stopped fighting, but are still considered hostile. Admiral, the fleets at Hyclarion will begin arriving in just over two hours," Mother said.

Terran Council Chamber

Command Pod Alpha One

27 Apr. 10266 CE (AD)

Sector 34871 - Great Inland Sea

Terra, Sol system

"I really like this room. It allows you to do what you need to get done without all the interruptions of open court," Hjoolous said as they reentered the Grand Council Chamber. "I might have to hire your artisans to construct one for me."

"I think this was mostly built by drones under computer control, but we'll see what we can come up with for you," Ben smiled back at his friend.

"I'll be looking forward to it." He sighed. "Back to formality. AI Mother, please send our proclamations to the court at Hyclarion."

"At once, Majesty," Mother replied.

"We imagine there will be a rather strong disagreement with my edicts, but the facts are the facts. They cannot argue those. No, the worst of it will be the military production agreements we have reached. Many of the Senate currently have very lucrative contracts with the military. By doing what I have done, they stand to lose a great deal of money and influence if they cannot fulfill those contracts now that we are at war. That animosity will be directed at you mostly, because you will be given the means to fill those orders. No, there will be repercussions for those edicts. If he hasn't already done so, we will have Yolinar assign a Marine division here whose primary duty will be the protection of you and your government." He paused. "Mostly you."

Ben was surprised. "Why would I need that much protection? Won't our existing guards be able to handle it?"

"Prime Council, by the end of the day, there will be a multi-million credit contract out for your head. It might even surpass the one on my own. I do not have many that I can call friend; I will not let some petty noble deprive me of one. Also, the people need you in charge here. I need you in charge here. With you and the advisers you have surrounded yourself with," he gestured widely to the room in general. "I know the defense of the Empire will not suffer for this decision. However, we need to speak to your Council about some technicalities."

Ben nodded. "Mother, could you ask the Councilors to join us?"

"Certainly, Prime Council. One moment please," Mother replied.

Hjoolous leaned closer to Ben and spoke quietly. "Remember one thing above all else, Ben. In this sector, you will be speaking with my voice. You will be the ultimate ruler here, with only me to worry about. No matter what you're told, or it seems you will be forced to do, you will be, in effect, the Emperor in this sector. If you do not agree with something, or something doesn't sit well with you, change it, stop it, or do whatever you feel you may need to do. You can also call and talk to me about it. Don't let anyone push you around here," Hjoolous finished as the monitors began to lite up with the arrival of the Council.

"Except you, right?" Ben asked grinning.

Hjoolous nodded, but chuckled back at him. "Except me. But I do expect you to argue with me from time to time, if for nothing else than the sport of it."

"I imagine we will argue quite a bit, Hjoolous. But no matter what, I will always be your friend," Ben replied.

Hjoolous looked him in the eyes. "If I had even a minor doubt on that Ben, this situation would have turned out very differently. You are vastly too much of a threat to the Empire to allow to become our enemy."

Ben shook his head. "I don't see how that could ever happen, Hjoolous. Our peoples are too much alike, have too much in common. As long as we respect each other's differences, there can never be a problem. As with any relationship, communications is the required element for success."

"This move will frighten a great many people, Ben. We will have to work to assuage their fears. You are now responsible for a great many more people than you can imagine. A good share of them will be rescued from the Lizards. You are going to need our help to deal with that; we are going to need your help to fight the lizards. Once the people see your strength and loyalty to them, it will be an inspiration to them. That is the goal we must attain," Hjoolous replied.

"Majesty, Prime, the Council is assembled," Mother replied.

Hjoolous turned back to the main camera. "My Lords and Ladies, we apologize for intruding on you once again, but I needed to make sure you were all aware of a technicality within the laws of the Empire. A silly thing to be sure, and one I will work to change if you wish it.

"The current political structure of the Empire does not acknowledge the title of Prime Council and a 'Councilor' is either a lawyer or a mental health professional. So, although your duties will not change because of this, you will be officially given titles and named to the nobility of Terra. Your Prime Council will be officially listed as your King."

"Uh, Majesty, Yes, I would very much like it if you could change that. I don't feel comfortable with a title like that," Ben replied.

Hjoolous shrugged. "As I said, it is a silly thing. However, the duties and responsibilities you have assumed are those of a King. To the Hyclarion court, you will be a treated as a King, no matter what we change it to," Hjoolous said. "You will also need to appoint an Ambassador to the court. Someone that can act as your liaison between the Hyclarion court and you."

"Councilor Yoshi would like to speak," Mother replied.

Ben nodded to him.

"Prime Council… Uh, Ben. When I spoke to your father before the fall, and he convinced me to join this effort. I did ask him what kind of government we would be under. I believe his answer is most appropriate here. He told me that, because of the fluidness of the situation, he was taking steps to make sure you would be the over-all leader, but he would also make it so the rest of us could advise you. He told me that while, yes, it is actually a monarchy style of government, titles and whatnot are irrelevant. The important thing was that the people were getting taken care of. It is the people that are the most important part of any government or society. Whether you are a King or a President, as long as your first priority is the people we are here to serve, then what you are called is not important. It is what you do that counts, not what you are called.

"The truth of the matter is that your office is already hereditary, since your father set the precedent. Your son or daughter will be raised in the same manner you were. I imagine we will get to know them as well as we have gotten to know your family already. When the time comes, they will take your place as our leader. It is the simplest, as well as the easiest and safest way to handle it." He shrugged. "I would say just accept the title; after all, the head ditch digger is still a digger of ditches is he not?"

The rest of the Councilors applauded Councilor Yoshi.

Ben smiled and nodded to Yoshi as the smaller man grinned back. When the applause died down, Ben looked at the different monitors. "Brothers and Sisters, whatever title we accept actually is rather unimportant right now. Our Empire is at war. Which means we are at war. As we speak, our citizens are fighting and dying for us. It is our job to bring this war to an end as quickly as we can to save their lives. To that end, His Majesty has agreed to relocate the bulk of Imperial warship production to this system and give us the ships and training we will need to begin mining and manufacturing the materiel we will need to protect our people until they can stop the beings that would kill us.

"Do not misunderstand me, now that I know and understand the Lizard mentality better, that is exactly what we, as humans are facing. The Lizards would turn us into a race of cattle used to produce food for their race." He was very serious now. "We did not ask for this war, and I damn sure don't want to fight it, nor do I want to ask our people to. But this isn't about what we want, this is about survival. It is the dawning of a new day for humanity. It will be up to us to make sure that day does not become tragic."

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)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

Neptune’s Massif – Book IV

*Raptor Squadron – Book V (First Quarter of 2016)


Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

Terra Dawning – Book III

*New Day – Book IV (Pre-Sale now Jan 2015)


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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